Life Can Begin Again
Take God out of the universe and everything is annihilated,
every higher joy of the mind, every love, and only the wish
for mental suicide would remain, and only the devil and the
beast would still desire to exist
Jean Paul Richter, Dream
of a World without God
I have not done what God desired of me, that is certain.
On the contrary, I have only dreamed of what I wanted
from God. . . . LSon Bloy, Lait Journals
SERMONS ON THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
BY HELMUT THIELICKE
translated by John W. Doberstein
FORTRESS PRESS PHILADELPHIA
This book is a translation from Das Leben kaim noch
ewmal begmnen. Em Gang dwch die Bergpredigt (4th rev.
ed.; Stuttgart Quell-Verlag, 1958) Copyright Quell-
1963 BY FORTRESS PBESS
Library of Congress Catalog Card Nwnber 63-125$$
Printed in USA Prod 4980 UB934
To my friends
Drew University, Madison, New Jersey
This book is the last of a great quartet of "series sermons"
on some central, familiar biblical materials: in the order of their
appearance in English the parables of Jesus, the Lord's Prayer,
the first chapters of Genesis, and now the Sermon on the Mount.
In many ways this volume may prove to be the most valuable
of them all, for the Sermon on the Mount is so commonly mis-
interpreted as a collection of lovely, impossible ideals. Helmut
Thielicke makes it clear in every chapter that the Sermon on
the Mount can never be understood, indeed, will always be
misunderstood, if even for a moment we forget the Preacher
of the Sermon. For apart from the person and work of Jesus
Christ these marvelous words are the most radical and devastating
distillation of God's claims that it is possible to conceive; they
leave us in utter, hopeless dismay. Only "in Christ" do these
words of the law become the glorious gospel that promises that
for every man "life can begin again." The last sermon in this
book achieves a compelling beauty which even the hazards and
ineptitudes of translation cannot wholly obscure. Again the
translator is happy to have a part in helping this great preacher
to tell us in our own tongue the mighty works of God.
Mount Airy, Philadelphia John W. Doberstein
Tijnslator's Note vii
To the Reader xi
1 Journey Without Luggage 1
2 The First Installment of Happiness 1 1
1. The Salt, Not the Honey of the World 24
4. The Costs of Grace 35
5 Every Word an Oath fO
6. No Retaliation 1 63
7. Does Faith Pay Dividends' 80
8. Talking About God or With God> 95
9 Homecoming 108
10. Overcoming Anxiety 122
11. The Judge Accused 147
12 An Elementary Course in Faith 161
1 3 Venturing the Harder Road 1 7 3
14. Time's Up 1 188
15. The Foundation of Life 203
To the Reader
The real trouble of modern man expresses itself in two kinds
of fear: fear of the past and fear of the future.
Fear of the past has been a repeated theme of the existen-
tialists. How can I ever get away from all that lies behind me,
the points where I made decisions, right or wrong, but in any
case unalterable, which now determine my life? How can I
get away from the guilt that lies behind me and now can never
be undone^ For time is like a one-way street that leads me to
the future and never allows me to turn back to the past stations
of my life and make revisions. Therefore I am in the grip of my
past and I cannot undo it. I am the prisoner of my own past, and
the past is dreadfully irreversible. It determines me and makes an
object of me. How can I ever disentangle myself from this net
of the past perfect^ How can I get the reins of my life into my
hands again and guide the steeds according to my will, instead
of helplessly hanging on to the reins and being dragged around
by these unbridled horses? How numerous the dramas of our
time in which this question is the cantus firmus, and how we
prick up our ears when this theme of life and the anxiety of
life is struck!
But my relationship to the futwe is also broken. The time is
past when men composed shining Utopias in which technology
and social justice seemed about to lead humanity to paradise
regained. "The future has already begun." But on its threshold
Xll LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
no joyful bells appear to be ringing, we hear only the scream
of sirens. Quite obviously we are not sailing into peaceful har-
bors, on the contrary, we see ourselves becoming ensnared in
deadly adventures and nobody knows how it will turn out. If
at this moment we are not exactly saying, "Tarry a while (hold
up the future for a moment longer') thou art so fair," we still
live by the motto, "If the world ends tomorrow, today is today."
What we need and what we yearn for is something that will
liberate us from paralysis and help us gain a new attitude
toward what lies behind us and ahead of us.
This yearning for some real help with which to face life is met
by the Sermon on the Mount, or better, by the Proclaimer of
the Sermon on the Mount himself. Only at first glance could it
appear that here we are being pelted with a great profusion of
ejections and imperatives, often piercingly radical in their de-
mands And yet I must immediately correct myself- it is per-
fectly true to say they are "piercingly radical." Here there is
no talk of half measures and compromises, and anybody who
merely wants to play around with it had better let it alone.
Here it is all or nothing. And yet the term "piercing radicality"
does not express the essential point, for other people have been
radical too. Anybody who knows Kant the cthicist and his cate-
gorical imperative knows that his radicality can hardly be sur-
passed. With all the skill of a sharp-witted sleuth he ferrets out
man m every secret hole in which he seeks a refuge \\herc he
can be alone with his urges and his furious thirst for happiness
and power of prestige. And how about the fnnatics of every
age, the respectable people whose "purity it was to will one
thing" (Kierkegaard), who with a manic obsession and yet with
an incomparable devotion subordinated everything to the one
goal which they thought was right, regardless of losses and letting
nothing stand in their way^
We moderns are for the most part activists. We live by our
will, and we accept the principle that u if it does not kill me it
TO THE READER Xlll
will cure me." It may be the dim suspicion that this motivation
only makes us whirl ever faster on the carousel of a vicious
circle that causes us to respond to appeals to the will with a cer-
tain resignation and view all radicalisms with a bit of skepticism.
After all, was it not the great men of fanatical will, the "terrible
simplifiers" (the ternbles simplificateurs) who led us into
Therefore, in the Sermon on the Mount we should consider
less the piercing radicahty of its directions and give more con-
sideration to the Figure who is speaking here and has a definite
purpose in view when he speaks m these radical terms. What is
this ultimate thing^
Well, whatever it may be and we shall attempt to learn what
it is there is one thing that we must take cognizance of in these
first pages and that is that we are not given something to do
without first being given something. And this really is different
from what we hear from Kant and the other rigonsts. Here it
is not demanded that we free ourselves from our past by sheer
force and a titanic effort of will and simply begin a new life.
This would only put us back on the rack again and besides, it
would be illusionary.
He who into the future leaps
Goes down to ruin.
And whether the leap success or failure reaps,
The man who leaps
Goes down to rum
The Sermon on the Mount is uttered against a wholly different
background. The Proclaimer of the Sermon on the Mount says
to us: before you begin intelligently to strike out on a new path
and make a fresh start on life, you must first realize that every-
thing that lies behind you has been set straight, that someone
else has taken on your burdens, and that now you can really
begin your new life to use a phrase of Anouilh which he used
LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
with a wholly different connotation as a "traveler without
And yet there is something else that must be made clear at
the outset. The radical, straight, earnest road to which we are
directed, the entrance to which is a very narrow gate, is not so
laid out that it will "lead" us into a new future. In nonfigura-
tive language, the radicahty of the demands is not intended to
force a new situation in humanity and personal life by whipping
up, as it were, an increased intensity of zeal and determination.
No, what the Sermon on the Mount sets forth is not the kind
of dream that Kant, and also the fanatics in their way, dreamed.
On the contrary, instead of fostering the illusion that we can
bring about a new world situation and a new future by a radical
exertion of the will, the Sermon on the Mount says to us: a
future has been given to you, the air is full of promises, the
ship of your life and history itself is sailing toward a harbor
where you are expected and your safety assured. You are still
pitching upon the hazardous waves, and hurricanes roar and
strike terror in your hearts. But something has happened that
will bring all your ways and wanderings to this goal, that will
cause a future prepared for you in grace to come upon you.
The future has already begun but how different that sounds
in the Sermon on the Mount; how marvelously dread has been
changed into assurance 1 What js the future that is meant here?
Again this is what we shall try to find out in this book.
In any case, because this future has already begun we can
live in it; we are no longer absorbed by the present moment and
the old monotonous routine of workdays and Sundays. In the
name of that future we can afford to be radical and absolutely
straight, without allowing ourselves to be pushed off on the
diagonals of the parallelogram of power or to tack on a zigzag
course. In other words: first comes the future and then the un-
conditional demand, the straight line, the right course and not
the other way around.
TO THE READER XV
Is it worth while to listen to this message? It does not say:
you must begin a new life 1 As if we could do such a thing any-
how, as if we were even willing to listen to such a thing 1 What
it says is: something has happened in the province of hfe and
you must allow it to give its signal to you. And then because
that signal has been given, you can start afresh; life can begin
again. There are, of course, some very definite directions for
this new life. But first there are some things that are simply
given to us and we must accept them. To be able to begin afresh,
to become a "traveler without luggage" this itself is incredibly
new; and if it is to be possible, it will require a miracle. And
as a matter of fact, it is the purpose of this book to tell about
a miracle and to ask the question of how then one can live on
the strength of that miracle.
With regard to the origin and fortune of this book, there is
this to be said. It is the fourth edition of a collection of ad-
dresses on the Sermon on the Mount which the author delivered
in St. Mark's Church in Stuttgart during the worst of the post-
war years, 1946-1948. The individual chapters have been thor-
oughly revised. References to definite events and conditions
prevailing at the time when they were first delivered which
would no longer be understood or which have lost their interest,
have been eliminated. Nevertheless, here and there I have allowed
something of the coloration of the time to remain (for example,
in chapter eleven); for in more than one respect that time had
in it something that was profoundly typical of man's Anfechtwg,
temptation, despair, and need. It was a boundary situation in
which humanly speaking man's flank was often more exposed to
and less fortified against the Word of God than in more normal
times. We ought to go back to this chapter of our own life occa-
sionally whenever we find it hard to hear the Word of God.
Journey Without Luggage
And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a
great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from
all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who
came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who
were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd
sought to touch him, for power came forth from him and healed
And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said
"Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
"Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.
"Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh."
Luke 6:l-j-2l (cf. Matthew 5:1-9)
When Jesus had taken his place and saw the great crowd -of
people gathered around him he began to read what he saw in the
multitude of eyes directed at him.
What was written in those eyes ?
It was probably a mingling of hope and fear, of anxiety and
To begin with, there was the host of the miserable, the guilt-
burdened, the lonely, the incurably ill, the careworn, the people
who were hagridden by anxiety. They gaze at him with inscrut-
able eyes that can be fathomed only by the Savior himself.
Normally, we never see the miserable gathered together in this
way. Suffering and sorrow usually creep away and hide them-
2 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
Just suppose that suddenly all the hospitals and asylums were
emptied. Could we bear the sight of the crippled and mutilated,
the pallor of death, the hopelessness^ Could we bear to listen to
the shrill cacophony of mumbling, babbling, lunatic voices, the
shrieks of people tormented by persecution delusions and demonic
So all these miserable, burdened people are gathered here
around Jesus, for in some mysterious way Jesus attracts the
miserable. He draws the sinners and sufferers from their hiding
places like a magnet. Undoubtedly, the reason for this is that
men sense in this Figure something they do not see in any other
For one thing they see (and we all see) that he stands among
us as if he were one of us, he stands the test of misery. He does
not act as do the influential "upper ten thousand" of this world,
who build exclusive residential districts where they cannot see
the world's misery, who send a monthly check to an institution
for the destitute, but whom ten horses could not drag to the
place where they would prefer to send their unfeeling money
by itself. They are afraid to expose their hearts or even their
nerves to all this. They fear that their Persian rugs would begin
to burn beneath their feet and they would no longer get any
pleasure out of them. They are afraid that their gleaming chande-
liers would no longer be able to sweep away from their eyes
the darkness they would have to gaze into there.
So these people are grateful to the Savior for coming to their
miserable slum, grateful that he does not close his eyes as the
vast army of those who are shadowed by suffering passes by.
At the same time, however, they see in him something eke,
which is far more incomprehensible and, put alongside of their
first observation, almost inconceivable: the fact that the powers
of guilt and suffering cannot touch him, that, mysteriously, these
powers retreat as he comes by. To be sure, his heart, too, shud-
dered beneath the onslaughts of hell in the wilderness; for, after
JOURNEY WITHOUT LUGGAGE 3
all, it was his will to possess a human heart, to which nothing
human, no temptation, no dread, is alien. But sullen Satan was
defeated and left the arena without having accomplished any-
thing whatsoever. The same thing happened on the Cross. There,
too, he was clutched and clawed by physical pain and the dread
of dereliction; but again his spirit burst through the deadly
encirclement and found the way to the Father's hand.
So they all sought to get near to him. They gazed with wist-
ful longing at his hands that could do so much good and never
wearied of blessing and healing.
But now his hands were at rest. Now he seated himself and
began to speak.
We wonder whether they were not a little, perhaps even
greatly, disappointed. People generally prefer "practical Chris-
tianity, the religion of action." They would much rather have
him satisfy their hunger, bind up their wounds, and drive the
mad fear from their minds.
But here he is opening his mouth to speak. Why does he
turn to speech when all this misery cries out for action? Now,
these people think, now come the theories and the doctrines
that never feed and heal a man, that never warm a man's bones,
that never bring back a dead son, never fill the dread emptiness
of the future.
But even more: perhaps what he says will only make us more
sick than we were before. Haven't people always been claiming
that this is so? All respect to practical brotherly love! But
have not the "dogmas" of Christianity brought miseries upon
miseries i*> the world? Hasn't it constantly been creating separa-
tions between people? Hasn't it broken up communities, un-
leashed wars, troubled consciences, and robbed us of peace of
So these people here may be thinking too. What will he have
4 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
Probably what everybody already knows anyhow: that the
misery and suffering gathered there before him represents a
judgment, that the whole creation is corrupt, and so on. Oh, we
know that old story of the preachers!
At any rate he'll be calling us to repentance, as John the Bap-
tist did not long ago. He won't have anything else to say except
to go on repeating with painful monotony: The ax is laid to the
root of the trees and the Last Judgment is near.
These people who are gathered around Jesus know, or at least
think they know, what is coming when Jesus opens his mouth:
God's declaration of war against man, denunciation of sin, painful,
scrutinizing exposure of those innermost thoughts with which
God is not pleased.
The preachers are always beating this same old track. Every-
body knows this. These people know precisely what is coming.
And this in itself is very distressing and tiresome. Nor will they
be able to contradict it, for this preacher of penitence from
Nazareth is certainly right. But this only makes it more painful
and depressing. That stuff never gets you anywhere. Nobody
is helped by negatives, even when they are true.
Then Jesus opened his mouth and something completely un-
expected happened, something that drove these people to an
astonishment bordering upon terror, something that held them
spellbound long after he ceased speaking and would not let
them rest. Jesus said to the people gathered around him, people
who were harried by suffering, misery, and guilt: "Blessed are
you; blessed are you." The Sermon on the Mount closes with
the remark that the crowds were astonished and frightened,
even though it was a sermon on grace. But this is what always
happens when God unveils his great goodness. It Js so immense,
so far beyond and contrary to all human dimensions and con-
ceptions that at first one simply cannot understand it and we
stand there in utter helpless bewilderment. The shepherds at
Christmas were also unable at first to exult over the great light
JOURNEY WITHOUT LUGGAGE 5
that broke through the darkness over the earth but could only
fall to their knees in fear and scurry for cover.
When Jesus preached repentance, when Jesus wept over Jeru-
salem, which even then would not recognize the things that make
for peace, he did so in a voice almost choked with tears. How
is it that the language of the Bible, which is normally so strong
and unsentimental, should at this point speak of tears? Jesus
wept not only because these were his people who were lurching
so unavertibly toward the abyss. No, Jesus wept because he
knew the power of the Seducer, the menacing mystery of the
devil, who seizes even the upright, the respectable, the morally
intact people by the throat, and grips them in such a way that
at first even they themselves (if they do not have the gift of
distinguishing between spirits) have no premonition of the dread-
ful slopes to which they are being edged by a consummate
This is, after all, the ghastly mystery of the terrible twelve
years in which we were dealing with this dark power in Ger-
many, years in which the devil proved himself to be a master
of every ruse and camouflage. In those years that lie behind us
he did not appeal to the base instincts of our people, but chal-
lenged the sacrificial spirit and devotion of men. He caught
hold of youth at the point of their idealism and their love for
their country and, posing as an angel of light, played his dia-
bolical games with the best attributes of our people.
Only because Jesus knew this power of the Seducer and be-
cause he grieved over those who were being seduced are we
brought to the point where he wrests from our hearts the inner-
most willingness to accept judgment from him.
This is rather an amazing thing. For can there be any harsher
judgment than that of the Cross of Golgotha, surrounded not
only by the hangman's myrmidons and the masses roused to the
pitch of sadism, but also by the best and most moral examples
6 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
of humanity? And yet all of them together constitute a chorus,
giving appalling expression to megalomania, their vanity, and
their bad conscience. The fact is that we are all represented in
that furious mob around the Goss. "Mine, mine was the trans-
gression, But thine the deadly pain."
And yet we accept this judgment that comes from Golgotha.
Simply because we sense that here a man died for those whom
he himself would have to accuse, that here a man gave his life
for those who have forfeited their lives, that here a man stood
at bay, in his own flesh and blood, and therefore in an ultimate
comradeship with us all, against the powers that would torment
and destroy us.
The hard judgments which the Sermon on the Mount hurls
upon us all, relentlessly unmasking the deepest secrets and urges
of our hearts, are spoken by a Savior who in the very midst of
judgment calls out to us "Blessed are you," a Savior who does
not only fling out the cry "Woe to you," but invites us to the
Father's house. These judgments are spoken by a Savior whose
hand is not clenched into a smashing, repulsing fist, but is opened
in the gesture of blessing, and as he blesses we see the wounds
he suffered for our sake.
This leads us to the second point at which the utter diff erence
between the judgments of God and the way in which we men
are accustomed to judge and condemn becomes clear.
No man has ever yet been healed by judgment and punish-
ment Always the merely negative only makes us sick. What
good does it do if in the midst of the judgment and retribution
that comes to us we must say it serves you right; you can't kick;
you made your bed and now you must lie in it.
I ask: What good does it do to have this insight into judgment?
Obviously, none at all. It only pitches us into deeper hopelessness
and inner paralysis, and in not a few people stirs up the horrible
and sinful desire to end it all by violence.
JOURNEY WITHOUT LUGGAGE 7
The judgment by itself is no help at all if there is nothing
else besides. Therefore God too is never the judge, but always,
in the midst of judgment and in the midst of personal, vocational,
and family catastrophe, he is the seeking God, the God who is
seeking to bring us home, the "Savior," the restoring God. God
is always positive, even in the very worst of the judgments and
terrors that he must permit to come upon us.
That's how the beatitudes are to be understood: a hand
stretched out to us in the midst of suffering and care, a hand
that makes it clear that God still has a design for us and that he
wants to lead us to goals so lovely that we shall weep for joy.
God never merely stops with our past, though he does not let
us get away with anything and puts his finger upon our sorest
wounds. He is always the Lord who is concerned about our
future, paving the way to save us and guiding us to his goals.
If we really want to learn to evaluate and rejoice in this posi-
tive side of judgment and be able to reach out for it in every
time of need and suffering we shall have to guard against two
The first is this. We all know that familiar saying of Goethe:
"Blessed is he that cuts himself off from the world without
hatred. . . ." All of us have gone through hard, desperate, fear-
scourged, hopeless hours of Lfe, times in which we have tried
to escape on the wings of dreams to some region where, to use
Adalbert Stifter's phrase, the "gentle law" still reigns. At such
times older folks may dream of the days of their youth when
things were different and youth may dream of a future when
things will be different. But is that true blessedness, true happi-
ness? Isn't it only a shot of morphine that makes us dependent
and unfit and only throws us back more helplessly into hard
Jesus says something altogether different to us in his beati-
tudes. For he addresses his call specifically to those who are in
a predicament, the poor, those who are suffering because of their
8 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
own shortcomings and failures, the guilty, the grieving, the
persecuted, the hungry and thirsty. Why should he call these,
of all people, blessed? Is this merely cruel irony? What would
someone who had been told yesterday by the doctor that he was
suffering from cancer say if you called him "blessed"? What
would a woman who had been betrayed by her husband and
robbed of her dignity say? Or a mother who sees her child going
wrong? Or a young man who lives in desperate loneliness in a
rented room somewhere in a big city?
Isn't it sheer mockery to call these people "blessed" whether
in Goethe's sense or even in the sense of Jesus of Nazareth?
But now, listen to this.
When we are dealing with the beatitudes of Jesus, we must
not leave out of account him who spoke them; we dare not
assess them as sentences or maxims of a general philosophy of
life which are to be measured by whatever truth they contain
In all of these utterances Jesus is secretly pointing to himself.
And if we hear them addressed to us today by him who has been
exalted to the right hand of power and looks down upon us
from the glory of his eternity, then this is \\hat he is saying to us:
"The first reason why you who are miserable and afraid are
to be called blessed is simply because 7 am in the midst of you.
You complain because you must suffer? Look, I myself found
my real mission and learned obedience in what I suffered. You
complain because you have to drink a bitter cup? Look, when
I myself was compelled to drink the most ghastly draught any
man ever faced I learned to say, 'Not my will, but thine, be
done. 7 So I found peace in unconditional acceptance of the will
of my Father. You complain that in all your sufferings the face
of God has vanished, that you cannot feel his presence at all,
and you are left so dreadfully alone? Look, 7 too had that feel-
ing of Godforsakenness; it found its vent m that terrible cry of
dereliction, and the sun was darkened because it could not bear
JOURNEY WITHOUT LUGGAGE 9
the extremity of that loneliness. But while my tortured body
drooped, but was held and could not fall because of the burning
nails, suddenly the Father's hand was there beneath me to break
my fall and snatch my spirit from the anguish.
"Don't you understand this, my brothers? The first beatitude
is that / am in the midst of you and that, because you are suf-
fering my sorrows, I will also lead you to my fulfillments and
Then the second reason for blessedness.
We should not think that Jesus merely wanted to give us a
few maxims of practical wisdom, that he merely intended to
talk about the blessing of suffering and poverty and console us
by telling us that suffering would make us more mature. Jesus
knew all too well that it can turn out just the opposite, that a
man can break down under suffering, that it can drive us into
cursing instead of prayer, and that its ultimate effect will perhaps
be bitter complaining and accusing of God for his injustice.
No, because it is he who is present, because he is in the midst
of us, he comes not as a teacher but as the Savior. These are
not just words, words, words, something happens to us.
For now we have a signature, sealed with blood and sanctified
by the Savior's sufferings, declaring that heaven has been opened
to us, even when everything around us is locked tight, even if
there should never again be any improvement, any future, any
merriment or laughter in our lives. We have the signature which
certifies that "in everything God works for good with those who
love him" and that now (but actually only because that signature
is valid) it is precisely the empty hands that shall be blessed,
because they have long since lost all human hopes and consola-
tions; that the worst sinners shall be comforted, because even
the last shreds of any illusions as to their own consequence
have been stripped away from them and now for the first time
God has a chance to work in them. Now we have the assurance
that those who come with nothing in their hands will learn, to
10 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
their humiliation, that God is everything to them. When they
hold the hand of God they learn that fabulous certainty with
which we can step into the uncertainties of each succeeding
day. We have the signed statement, sealed by the sufferings of
Christ, that now those who go aimlessly stumbling through life
are literally surrounded with joyful surprises, because they will
learn (on this one condition, that they really dare to trust God)
how God is always there, that his help is supplied with an almost
incredible punctuality. They learn how he sends some person
to help us up again; how he allows us to catch some word (which
need not even be in the Bible) to which we cling, how he brings
money into the house and bread to our table, and how in the
hour of our greatest sorrow he may perhaps send the laughter
of a little child.
He who dares to live in this way, in the name of this miracle,
in the name of this opened heaven will see the glory of God,
the comforting stars of God shining in the darkest valleys of his
life and will wait with all the joyful expectancy of a child for the
next morning where the Father will be waiting with his surprises.
For God is always positive. He makes all things new. And
the lighted windows of the Father's house shine brightest in the
far country where all our "blessings" have been lost.
Blessed are you not because the far country cannot take away
from you the dream of home and better times to come. No,
blessed are you because the door is really and truly open and
the Father's hand is stretched out to you as long as he who
came in the name of the Father stands among us and proclaims,
nay, fulfills, the words, "Blessed are you f "
The First Installment of Happiness
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter
all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be
glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the
prophets who were before you." Matthew silo-lz
In every one of us there is no stronger drive than the desire
for happiness. It is so strong that as soon as we achieve one happy
goal we are immediately on the lookout for new shapes and
forms of happiness. No sooner has Faust attained and satisfied
his desire than he desires again:
And so from longing to delight I reel,
And even in delight I pine for longing.
So happiness is constantly changing its shape and is always just
ahead of us. For one it may be money and success, for another
the satisfaction of accomplishment, for another the comfort and
peace of being at home at one's own hearth. But whatever form
it may take, we all pursue it.
And because this is man's deepest desire, everybody who covets
power and craves to be idolized and loved by men is eager to
emblazon happiness on his banner. They know very well that
they will soon be cast into the discard if they fail to promise
and produce happiness. People are not satisfied with mere ideas
12 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
and good intentions; these do not appease this strongest of all
urges, this secret yearning for happiness. So the politicians,
not by any means only the cold, calculating Machiavellians, but
also the most idealistic of statesmen (if they had to begin their
careers in tunes that were dark and hopeless, having only demands
to make and nothing to give), have always promised happiness
at least for the futwe.
One need only look at the world, running its unswerving
course on these age-old tracks, beating its traditional path to
happiness, to judge how completely new and totally different
are the rules of life to which Jesus subjects us.
I ask you quite simply, does anybody know of a single example
in history or has anybody ever heard of anything in the present,
that is even remotely like what Jesus says here to his disciples?
Have you ever heard of anybody daring to say, "Humanly
speaking, I have nothing to offer you but the enmity of the
world and the shrieking of demons. I do not give you a seat
in the cabinet, but rather deliver you to public scorn. I send
you out [just think how ridiculous, how utterly mad this is!]
as sheep in the midst of wolves." Have you ever heard of anyone
saying this and then not going on to say, "But when*you have
fought your way through you will reap the fruit of your labors;
the world will finally acclaim you and sing your praises, shouting
'You've won, you've won, despite it all!'"?
No, instead Jesus says, "You will never get away from per-
secution and tribulation; the servant will never be greater than
his master, and this will go on until I come again. There may
be times of prosperity and why shouldn't Christianity too be-
come the fashion, all kinds of things have become the latest
craze? and men may shout 'Hosanna' to you. But just wait,
just wait a little while, and the cries 'Crucify him* and 'Barabbas'
will follow. The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head and
of you too it will be true: here we have no lasting city. This
need not necessarily mean you will always be cast out; but be-
THE FIRST INSTALLMENT OF HAPPINESS 13
lieve me, whether it be merely the slightly contemptuous toler-
ance with which people observe you saying your table prayer
in a restaurant, or going to church on a Sunday morning, or
whether it be some great political system that challenges your
faith, believe me, in every age to the end of time there will be
those who will see to it that you are surrounded with an atmos-
phere of homelessness."
What a ghastly prospect 1 It makes one ask in all seriousness
how Jesus could ever have gained disciples with an appeal like
that. And then does it not sound like sheer mockery for him to
go on and say, in the face of the tortures of body and soul to
which they were actually exposed, "Rejoice and be glad"? If
that is not mockery (and surely it cannot be that), then there
must be some great mystery here which we do not see.
Did not all of us sense something of this dark, yet gladdening,
mystery during the days when the church was being persecuted?
What was it that comforted us during those darkest years and,
hopefully, will comfort us again when the persecutors begin
the chase again? Was it the fatuous, or at least very platitudinous,
phrases like "One must not give up hope" or "Lies have short
wings" or "Harsh rulers never reign long"? Did the thought of
what would happen to our persecutors in the Last Judgment
make us feel a little better? Was it not something altogether
different that set us on our feet and made us glad again? Was
it not rather some word that assured us that in all these things
we were only enduring the holy sufferings of our Lord himself
and being honored with his fellowship by bearing his cross?
And honored in a way that no spiritual exercises or devout
worship could ever accomplish? Were not all of us who suf-
fered with Jesus Christ incredibly blessed in a way that we
would never have dared to dream was possible and actually
never would have been able to discern by way of "theory"?
And has not this fact, that cross-bearing is full of hidden bless-
ings, always left the world standing in bewilderment before
14 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
the spectacle of Christians in Nero's arena or on the scaffold or
in the concentration camps, not merely bearing it with set teeth,
but singing songs of praise to heaven, not merely lying down
and taking it, but lifting up their heads because their redemp-
tion was drawing near, because they knew who was coming to
meet them on the other side of their torments?
Why, then, did they know this mysterious happiness? For
nobody can make us believe that this was merely masochistic
pleasure in suffering or a morbid death-wish. After all, they
were people just like us, they loved life and the sun as we do,
they too had loved ones to leave behind, and their hearts too
swelled with flooding joy in anticipation of the coining of spring
and the rich beauty of summer. What, then, is the secret of
this blessedness in the midst of suffering*
One reason we have already mentioned, that all who suffer
for Jesus' sake are given a share in the sufferings of their Lord.
Indeed, we may actually set it down as a rule of the kingdom
of God that to every man who touches even the fringe of his
garment, to whomever suffers even a little reproach for the
Savior he gives himself wholly, just as he did for the woman
who suffered from an issue of blood. She merely touched him
and then he allowed her to perceive the whole of his glory.
All of us would like to "know" Jesus, and we understand
very well why the Greeks said, "We would see Jesus." Hence
we are inclined to expect a miracle, to wish for a deep, thrilling
conversion experience, to perceive the stirrings of the Spirit,
as it were with our nerves, hankering after holy feelings. But
all this, even if it were bestowed upon us, would pass away
again like "sound and foam." But the man who touches him
here, at the fringe of his reproach, the man who befriends the
outcast who is nevertheless the brother of the Savior, the man
who cheerfully bears the scoffers' mutterings and lifted eye-
brows as he stands up for his faith or risks his all, in fear and
trembling and yet with smiling confidence for the sake of his
THE FIRST INSTALLMENT OF HAPPINESS 15
Lord, that man receives the whole of him, in his happy hours
too. Then he realizes that he is not only standing beneath the
Cross but also lying in a grave, and that the imprisoning stone
is rolled away from it only because now he is dealing with the
Victor and Prince of Life.
There is another comfort, however, in the fact that Jesus
promises that his followers must endure sufferings; for the very
fact that all this is stated beforehand in his words assures us
that suffering is by no means contrary to plan. No matter how
grim the fears that surround us, none of it can frustrate the
plans of our Lord; on the contrary, they are all exactly in line
with his plans. Time after time we learn from experience that
it is not the suffering itself that is the worst; the worst is mean-
inglessness. For the disciples the worst thing about the sufferings
of their Lord was not that now they saw themselves facing
persecution and torture, but that all the torment of rack and
scourge that he would have to suffer suddenly appeared to have
become meaningless and worthless. If the Messiah himself ended
in bankruptcy, what possible sense could there be in losing even
one drop of blood for a lost cause* That's why they fled from
Golgotha; it was not the threat of suffering, it was the paralyzing
threat of meaningless suffering.
Once we see this, the comfort in our text becomes apparent;
suffering does not sabotage the plans of God, nor does it con-
tradict the promise of our Lord. Rather he has taken it into
his calculations, and it is the prof oundest reality in the kingdom
of God. Only through suffering can we enter into glory. More
than that, only in suffering do we become aware of the glory
of God, because it pleases God to have men cry to him out of
the depths and to send his only begotten Son into the depths.
But there is something still deeper in this prophecy to the
disciples that they would have to suffer. When Jesus foretells
suffering, this is far more than a mere prognosis, a mere pre-
diction. In this too Jesus is altogether different from men.
16 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
When a physician says to me, "You have only so and so long
to live," he can say this fairly calmly, for his own fate is left
quite untouched. But when Jesus says it, we sense something
different. When he speaks of wars and rumors of wars, when
he foretells the coming of wolves who will break into the sheep-
fold, when he faces us with the danger that love will grow cold
even among the faithful, when his words summon before our
eyes all the woes of the world, from nights of bombing to the
loneliness of those left behind, then all this suffering the world
must 'endure to the end of time is, as it were, drawn together
in his vision, as space is swept together and focused in a tele-
scope; then he himself suffers this dreadful scene, this terrible
fate, in his own soul. And this, then, is the second comfort,
nothing can happen to us that has not already entered the
Savior's eye and wounded his heart. It was all there in the
Savior's eye and soul long s*go and remains there, everlastingly
present m his heart. Do you understand every thing, every-
thing of pain and grief that faces us now 5
Then, having reached this point, we have also gained access
to what is meant by the words in the Sermon on the Mount:
"Your reward is great in heaven."
At first we may feel a certain hesitation about these words
and perhaps something in us may even react rather vehemently
to them. After all, we know that we must do a thing "for its
own sake" and not be on the lookout for reward.
But the fact remains that no conviction, not even the con-
sistently ethical conviction we have just mentioned, can make
do without the thought of reward. Even the consistently ethical
person knows something of the satisfaction and happiness that
may come from doing a thing for its own sake: "Virtue is her
own reward." So we may twist and turn as we will, but the
idea of reward cannot be eliminated, for the simple reason that
the word "reward" does not mean an outward or mward re-
THE FIRST INSTALLMENT OF HAPPINESS 17
numeration in material or ideal values, in money or distinctions,
but rather because the idea of reward constitutes a kind of scale
to express the value of an act and indicate to what extent God
can take pleasure in it.*
And here Jesus makes it clear to us that men will dispute
every form of this reward that will come to your Christian
action, your sacrificing, your prayers, your faith, your witness-
bearing. They will not only try to deprive you of all actual
earthly reward; you will not only fail to see your prestige in-
creased by faith; you will not only come to see that the faithful
do not by any means have things better than others (the time
of the bombings gave us opportunity to have some realistic ex-
perience of that) ; but often enough you will even see the inward
reward dissolve into nothingness. Very often you will not even
have the reward of peace and joy in believing that you might
expect would come after a courageous, straightforward act of
witness. Even this reward is not something you can count on
with certainty. For every Christian comes, sooner or later, to
the point where the happy self-evident certainty goes trickling
away through his fingers. Cannot the flood of tribulation swell
to such proportions, may not injustice so overrun the world,
that even the faithful (especially and precisely if they think
they are exempt from the onslaughts of wickedness and injustice)
are tormented by the question: How can God let such things
happen? Can there not and must there not be many times when
they feel their love grow cold? Even in the midst of persecu-
tion for one's faith such temptations constantly recur, though
we are inclined to think that the genuine martyrs simply enjoy
as a matter of course the reward of inner peace, or to put it less
emotionally, the satisfaction of having done a good deed.
We need not have been immured in a concentration camp
to have experienced this. We need only to have been exposed
* For further discussion of the idea of reward see chapter 7, "Does Faith
18 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
to the cold cynicism of a scoffer or the repeated self-assured
shrugs of despisers around us to be pitched into the age-old
temptation of believers: Why do the wicked prosper? The
complete self-assurance of a definitely godless person, the obser-
vation, for example, that our witness does not even provoke
him to opposition, but is for him simply airy nothingness (re-
membering that what he thinks is hot air, what he thinks he can
treat as simply nonexistent is the very thing that our faith
declares is determinative of his destiny in time and eternity),
this is often apt to assail not only our nerves but also our faith
and corrode our trust that the "Christian hf e" is its own sufficient
reward. Even for the martyrs, for all who sit behind bars under
the ban of the godless, does not the moment come when they
are compelled to ask the question that troubled John the Baptist:
"Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another^'
the moment when, despite all we know of the Cross, we simply
cannot go on believing that both are true and both continue to
exist at the same time: the rule of godlessness in the world, the
self-assurance of nonchalance and that royal figure to whom all
authority in heaven and on earth is given?
But there is still another respect in which reward for so-called
good deeds is uncertain and illusory for all who have suffered
for Jesus' sake. They are constantly troubled by the thought
that they may not have confessed their Lord aright, that they
may have compromised him, that they might have done it better,
that in this one case which has brought suffering upon them
they might better have kept silent, that it might have been more
prudent and wiser in a spiritual sense to have acted differently.
This presentiment that what we do is in vain "even in the best
of lives," that even in what we do as witnesses and believers
there is still so very much that is human, that arrogance, false
pathos, the desire to play our little miserable, posturing roles,
and perhaps even vain angling for a martyr's crown may lie
concealed in what we do this presentiment never ceased to
THE FIRST INSTALLMENT OF HAPPINESS 19
trouble the martyrs of Jesus, and doubtless this cannot be other-
wise, for they too, and they especially, are the ones in whom
the pious desires of the flesh must be condemned and consumed
by divine judgment.
Provision has been made, or better, God has made provision,
that we should not escape this disquietude, this "human-all-too-
human" skepticism about this reward which a good work is
supposed to "contain within itself."
Note the way it is expressed: "Which it contains within itself"
Now we must listen very, very carefully: Jesus says that the
reward of those who suffer for him is great "in heaven"; he does
not say that it lies in the work itself.
What does "heaven" mean here* It does not mean that the
work is its own reward (it cannot be, because it is always subject
to doubt) and it does not mean that it will be "repaid" in the
life to come.
"Heaven" is rather the realm, the sphere m which God's rule
is in full and absolute force. Jesus taught us to pray, "Thy will
be done, on earth as it is in heaven," in order to indicate that
even in this world that is loaded with opposition to God, even
in this world where, notoriously, God's will is not done but
notoriously opposed, situations may occur in which God's will
is done, fully, completely, and uncompromisingly, just as it is
So, to confess the Lord and to receive reward for it in heaven
means to have a part in this rule of God even here and now,
which is to say that even here on earth by confessing his name
we help in a tremendous way to break down the walls of separa-
tion so that God's power can break through to us. Our witness
and confession has a liberating power.
This, then, is our reward that now, in confessing him, in the
very act of confession, we are permitted to learn that we are not
strong men who stand up like Luther (actually a misunderstood
Luther) and strongly and passionately declare, "Here I stand,
20 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
I cannot do otherwise," and thus as men who are relying on
their own strength and courage. Nor does confessing mean that
we stand like strong oaks of the Lord with mighty roots clutch-
ing the earth as the storms of godlessness, doubt, and mockery
sweep through their branches. (What shaking reeds and glim-
mering wicks, what miserable doubting Thomases we are, even
though a few people may have called us confessors and fighters
for God! Let us not fool ourselves.)
So, "confessing" does not mean that we are like oaks, weather-
ing the storm by our own power. To be a confessor means
to bear witness to the power of the living God and to start
from the fact (note this, from the fact) that this power of God
is a force that sovereignly embraces the good and the evil, the
faithful and the mockers, and that nothing is beyond its dominion.
But when I do this, when I venture to do this, a miracle hap-
pens; for then what happens is nothing less than my proceeding
to make room for heaven, to break a path for the reign of God
in our lives. And just by doing this, my confession gains the
power to detonate a greater power; what happens is simply that
now I let God act and rule, while I am content to be only his
instrument. And when that happens, or better, when I let this
happen, then I am acting in good earnest with the faith that
"our commonwealth is in heaven" and that here we are acting in
the name of one whose name is above every name.
You see, then this is my undreamed of reward that in con-
fessing him I am actually set down in this commonwealth, that
I release the powers of heaven, and that I myself can retire be-
hind the God who, in my confession, enters the battle and is
now the "right man" who will fight for me.
And what a really great reward that is! When I confess God
I am not standing in front of him to defend him (as if / could
protect God!). It's just the other way around; God is standing
in front of me and I am standing behind him; he is fighting my
cause and I can confidently trust it to him. To confess actually
THE FIRST INSTALLMENT OF HAPPINESS 21
means simply to give the reins into God's hands, knowing that
he actually has them in his hands already.
This is my reward, this is what it is^suddenly to be a citizen
of heaven, the heaven that here breaks through with power and
which I, poor, weak man, can serve by being the breach through
which it enters, and in whose service I am privileged to be spent
and consumed perhaps in suffering, dying, and in the contempt
Did we not experience this a thousand times in the years of
terror and persecution just past? Did we not learn what an
incredible, gladdening reward comes to a man once he lets God
act on his own, precisely when, from any human point of view,
things were utterly hopeless? How often during the worst time
of persecution it happened to me, when I simply made the
venture and, of course, many others, who were by no means
the least in the kingdom of God, managed to do this in quite
different ways and despite all considerations of prudence and
self-preservation, ministerial and ecclesiastical, dared to confess
my Lord publicly in situations that were perhaps not un-
dangerous, and then was able to say joyfully, almost exultantly:
"I'm through, I've made it! Now what comes of it is God's
responsibility. Now I have summoned God into the fray. Now
I have taken away the initiative from human prudence and
opened the way for the action, the sovereign action of God. And
this God of mine will not fail where his honor is concerned."
Is it not more than sufficient reward to be able to eliminate
oneself and taste the blessedness of knowing that God himself
rises up to perform his mighty works and that, in the midst of
the earth, where the powers clash and the terrible battle rages,
I have been transferred into the unspeakable peace and safety
of heaven, which is now breaking through and unfurling the
banner of the kingdom?
Here we can experience what we must call a real presence of
heaven in the midst of our life, in the midst of this aeon, a pres-
22 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
ence which Jesus elsewhere explained to an astonished audience
with the words, "The kingdom of God is in the midst of you"
(Luke 17:21). It is already there, wherever he is, for my Lord
walks beside me whenever I march against the devil, sin, and
But joyful and promising as all this is, it is nevertheless only
"first aid", for the blessedness of this presence of heaven on
earth is only a feeble shadow and foretaste of what God will
do when he is all in all, when the dark glass is swept away and
his own face will shine as the sun, when faith will end and we
shall see him in blessed nearness.
The ultimate greatness of this promise of Jesus is that heaven
is not only the goal; already it shines above our path. It is not
only a promise; it is a blessed presence for those at any rate
who earnestly rely upon it. And the most earnest form of relying
upon it is undoubtedly that in which I confess my Lord and dare
to cast on him the whole responsibility for what may happen
Now do we understand why these verses despite all the
dangers of which they speak, despite the daily skirmishes in
which we must maintain our faith, despite the great occasions
of suffering, which may involve the concentration camp and
"goods, fame, child, and wife" do we understand now why these
verses are nevertheless imbued with a surging stream of exulta-
tion and why they keep soaring between these two shining poles
"Blessed are you" and "Rejoice and be glad"?
We walk beneath an open heaven. What matter then whether
our path runs through dark valleys and awful chasms? We know
who is watching over us. We know that the terrible deeps, the
abysses of life, and our fear of what men can do can no longer
swallow us up and that underneath us are the everlasting arms.
If we fall, then it is into those arms that we shall fall.
In conclusion it remains only to ask whether all this has not
THE FIRST INSTALLMENT OF HAPPINESS 23
been untimely and out of date. Has not the church of Jesus
Christ, you may say, withstood these hard temptations about
which we have been speaking, and is it not now enjoying a
respectable, at least fairly respectable, repute^
Hold on, my friends, hold on f Who knows whether this may
not be the stillness before the greatest storm of alP Are we
not already aware of the specters hovering over ancient Europe?
May it not be that today the church must sow unrest and dis-
comfort (simply because it is eternally obligated to speak the
truth in season and out of season, both to our own people and
to others), and that even tomorrow it may reap the storm, which
will once more cast it completely upon him who rules the winds
and waves and spreads his open heaven above all the blood and
We may well pray that the church may not grow soft and
secure in this brief respite m the lee of great events that are
surging all around us. To a hazardous degree the voices of
security are making themselves heard, sometimes even with that
pharisaic undertone that shows no more distress over a people
that was led astray. Here and there we see signs of a kind of
gladness and rejoicing in which God can take no pleasure and
to which the promise of our text certainly does not apply. Let
us be watchful and gird our loins! Storms will come which we
shall not be able to withstand with valor, but only with joy. For
one thing is sure: we are not facing an abyss that is locked and
closed for ever; the beast has yet to arise from it in all its mag-
nitude and inevitably it will come upon us. Once again, we
are not facing closed abysses, but we can count upon an opened
heaven and the jubilant chorus of the saints in light whose song
comes forth to meet us: Blessed art thou, my faithful child 1
The Salt, Not the Honey
of the World
"You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall
its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to
be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.
"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid.
Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand,
and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before
men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your
Father who is in heaven " Matthew $:13-16
I wonder whether we comprehend the full enormousness of
what Jesus is saying here^ After all, what he is saying is this:
"You disciples, standing here before me, you inconspicuous,
insignificant people, you miserable little crowd (far more miser-
able than you realize yourselves, for I alone can see what you
will do, how you will falter and fail in your little corner, how
you will fall asleep when you should be watching, how you will
deny me when you should confess me), you wretched little troop
you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world"
Listen carefully: Jesus does not say, "You should be the salt
of the earth" (as if we could accomplish this), but rather, "You
are salt and light, simply because your Father in heaven called
you to be salt and light." Do you understand this^ For it means
nothing less than this: "The whole earth will be salted and lighted
by you. The world will have to reckon with you. The state,
THE SALT, NOT THE HONEY OF THE WORLD 25
industry, politics, culture, all will be within the sphere of your
power." Isn't that enough to make one wonder if here somebody
is not speaking sheer nonsense^
There is a tremendous soaring passion in this saying.
We need to talk about Christian self-confidence in order to
express this passion. It is true, of course, that he who would
boast should boast of his weakness. We know that we are weak
and helpless and that it is God and he alone who is powerful in
the weak; but the fact remains that there he really is powerful.
In them (and this means in you, in me, and in the whole of poor
Christendom) he is so mighty that it produces a great trembling
and vibration in the whole body of the world, just as the body
of a giant ocean liner is shaken by the pounding of its engines.
The New Testament reveals this trembling to us on every hand.
Unbidden the great scenes in which this trembling and vibrat-
ing of the world is perceivable rise before the mind's eye. There
is Jesus, the nameless Galilean, appearing before Pilate, the rep-
resentative of the world's power, and being dismissed with the
miserable gesture of Pilate's washing his hands. We can almost
hear Pilate saying to himself after bothering almost more than
was fitting with the case of this Nazarene, "Next case, please."
After all, this was a mere bagatelle for the state to be troubling
itself with. And sure enough, the next case did come, and an-
other and another, a whole chain of those who desired to be
servants of this Lord and share the lot of their Master. They
were dragged before kings and ministers and the highest courts,
for the powers of this world always like to be legitimate and
legal. They seek to get justice and law on their side when they
want to eliminate the nobodies, the people who have neither
a name nor a visible lord to back them up and yet dare to speak
as authoritatively as if their "imaginary lord" had actually been
given all authority in heaven and on earth.
The mighty ones do not rise from their thrones and official
seats when the little people come in. Why should they? Should
26 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
an elephant run from mice, should the directors of the universe
and the warders of the machinery of state be upset when a few
sectarians talk big^ . . . and Pilate said to himself, "Next case,
But look, out of this insignificant scene in the governor's
office in Jerusalem there went a great trembling throughout the
Roman empire, a trembling and quaking laid hold upon the
earth and shook the foundations of the world. Suddenly the
question of Jesus Christ was spilled out of the saltcellar, and it
is almost amusing to see Pontius Pilate, Herod, the Roman em-
perors, and countless philosophers and poets trying furiously to
get it back in again. It had scattered salt in the world and all
the scraping and chemical washes could never get it out again.
But what Christ set in motion with his few Christians in that
first onslaught was only the first precursory sign of the last
great crash when everything will sink in ruins to a cosmic grave
and God himself will descend upon the rubbled plains of over-
throw. Verily, we ought to realize the tremendous claims, the
soaring passion of Christian self-confidence.
We find in the New Testament more of the same kind of
We see the foolishness of the Cross rising up against the wis-
dom of the Greeks and regarding that wisdom, for all its im-
pressiveness, of which even a man like Paul was well aware, as
ultimately nothing more than refuse (I Cor. 1 and 2, Phil. 3:8).
We see the poor in spirit rising above the sick and drunk with
power, as the pride of a king's child may exalt itself above slavery
and servitude from which it has been exempt through the gift
of an incomprehensible and gracious freedom.
Even nature itself, with all the sublime power of its laws
and the infinite variety of its forms, groans in travail and yearns
for this freedom of the children of God, which these few poor
and despised men may call their own (Rom. 8).
Yes, even the light of the sun will fail, the moon will turn
THE SALT, NOT THE HONEY OF THE WORLD 27
as it were to blood, and the sea will be no more, with a groan
the cosmos will sink into ruin. What tremendous forces and
powers are these! But the little band of those whose love has
not grown cold will be saved, and the catastrophe of a sinking
world will not be permitted to draw them into its vortex, for
they are secure m the peace of the Father.
Only One draws near to the falling world from the other side,
because he is the King. And in his name Christians even now
walk the earth as victors, because they die as those who are
poor and yet rich beyond all measure. That's how great Chris-
tians are! They belong to the greatest of all kings. True, what
they have is a borrowed greatness, but it is greatness. The world
and the lust of it (the whole monstrous world 1 ) will pass away,
but he who does the will of God (and, after all, that's what
this tiny band, almost swallowed up in the world's mess, is try-
ing to do), 'will abide -forever! Do you hear that only he will
abide! Everything else will vanish. History will stop, nature
will collapse, the curtain will fall, but he who does the will of
God is more than world history, more than nature, more than
all the peaks of intellect, more than the whole cosmos. He is more
than all of thisdo you understand? Even though he be one of
the "nobodies," whom the world never notices, yet he dwells
beneath the Father's good pleasure.
Starting, then, with this thought, I believe we may have gained
some understanding of why Jesus made that tremendous state-
ment that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world
and that the little, wretched band of Christians is nothing less
than the very sustaining power of the world!
Now, what does this mean?
Bernanos in his famous novel, The Diary of a Country Priest,
said that it is significant that Jesus did not say, "You are the
honey of the world," but rather, "You are the salt of the earth."
To look at many Christians who are soft and effeminate and
28 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
sweet one would think that their ambition is to be the honeypot
of the world. They sweeten and sugar the bitterness of life
with an all too easy conception of a loving God. They soften
the harshness of guilt with an appallingly childish romanticism
They have retouched hell out of existence and only heaven is
on the horizon. When it comes to the devil and temptation they
stick their heads m the sand and they go about with a constant,
set smile on their faces, pretending that they have overcome
the world. For them the kingdom of God, that comes with the
savage agonies and travail of history, the excesses of the Anti-
christ, and the groans of martyrs, has become an innocuous garden
of flowers and their faith a sweet honey they gather from its
blossoms. And this is also the reason why the world turns away,
sickened and disgusted, from these Christians. People in the
world know that life is harder than that, and therefore they
know that it is more decent to bear the bitterness of it without
sugaring it over.
But Jesus, of course, did not say, "You are the honey of the
world." He said, "You ire the salt of the earth." Salt bites,
and the unadulterated message of the judgment and grace of God
has always been a bmng thing so much so that men have re-
volted against it and even bitten back at it. It has always been
easier to get along with the honey-god of natural religion.
Where there is salt in a church and in its preaching there is
bound to be a sour reaction against it. For salt always bites
and stings at the points where we men have wounds, where we
are vulnerable. We want healing imthoitt pain and besides,
we do not even want to be reminded of these sore spots. That's
why the world not only shouts for the golden calf but also for
the honey-gods who will make us forget our deepest wounds.
So where there is no bitter reaction to the message, the true
salt is lacking. It is a dubious sign if the world lives too peace-
fully with the church. It is not a good sign when people are
all too admiring of their preacher, for then as a rule he has not
THE SALT, NOT THE HONEY OF THE WORLD 29
been scattering salt from the pulpit. The people have not been
bitten by that preaching, they have gone home thinking they
were quite healthy and sound, that they had no wounds, and
the good Lord has let them get away "with a whole skin."
Enthusiasm and excessively unanimous agreement with a sermon
usually indicates that it is suffering from a serious deficiency
Then, too, salt has a preserving power, the power to stop
decay. Our Western world has become a world of decay and
rottenness because that salt is lacking. True, we have made
progress, technologically we have reached the heights, we have
discovered the delights of life in this world, we love the joie
de vivre of sunburned young flesh. Ah, but the worm and the
canker may be in it. And what a pass we have come to with our
ideal of sun-browned affirmation of life, the awful abysses a world
without God can plunge into, this world enraptured with its
own delights well, we have experienced it ourselves and with
such a vengeance that I need waste no more words over it.
All of us including every conceivable freethinker, atheist,
and antitheist are still living, far more than we realize, on the
Christian heritage, the "salt in the flesh" that keeps it sound.
But the organism of our world has gradually used it up. That's
why we need Christian disciples who carry salt into die world
and help to immunize it against the poison of decay and cor-
ruptionagainst all the processes which have been rather por-
tentously called "the decline of the West."
But there is still another important attribute of both salt and
Both become useful only when they give of themselves, when
they are mixed with something else and sacrificed. Light goes
into darkness and salt loses itself in the dough. How a few
grains of salt can change a whole quantity of food or dough f
From a purely quantitative point of view, the proportion of
30 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
really earnest Christians to the whole mass of people m the
world is comparable to the few grains of salt in a great mass
of dough. And when we Christians grow discouraged, when
we think how few we are, of how we stand alone in our family,
the place where we work, among our acquaintances; when we
are dismayed and fear for our faith at the thought that the
kingdom of God which is to triumph over the world is rep-
resented by these few insignificant men and women, often
enough these few old men and women, then we should take
comfort from this saying of Jesus. He dicf not say, "You are
the great mass of the world," nor did he say, "You, my Chris-
tians, shall be identical with the mass, you will be the citizenry
of the world." No, he said, "You are the pinch of salt in the
mass," and by its very nature that is a small quantity.
So, do not groan about being a solitary Christian, a small
minority in a far greater pagan environment, you have been
called to salt this whole godless mass. That is the promise given
to lonely Christians.
And actually, how often the power of this one grain of salt
turns out to be mightily effective!
When one Christian does not laugh at a particular joke, then
that salt seasons the insipid fidelity of the rest.
When this one person practices forgiveness in a company that
is poisoned by intrigue and enmity, then all of a sudden there
is a healing factor in the situation.
When one Christian is willing to stand up for his faith where
this is hard to do, then suddenly the whole atmosphere of a
meeting or group may be salted as with a fresh sea breeze and
the earnest spirit may suddenly open ears that were closed before.
When one person, in a group that is shaken by fear, thinking
of the terrors that may befall the world (which, of course, can
happen at any moment), or simply resigning themselves to a
hopeless future, when this one person radiates that peace of
God which is beyond all the reason and unreason of the world,
THE SALT, NOT THE HONEY OF THE WORLD 31
and thus communicates something of this peace of God to others
simply by his presence there then the salt is doing its work in
the midst of corrupting care and paralyzing dread, then the
light is shining in the darkness of panic terror.
Once again we say, the solitary Christian is given a great
promise: he is a grain of salt. This promise is not given to the
whole mass of dough except as it allows itself to be salted. But
this one Christian not only has the promise but, since he is a
grain of salt, is also the bearer of the promise. And this is his
But, of course, if he is to share this promise and fulfill this
responsibility, he must get out of the saltcellar. It's so easy, so
nice to stay in the saltcellar! This is where the good people are;
here they are comfortable together, here they understand one
another. That's why it is often so hard to get Christians out
into the mass of dough. They would rather let the world go
its own way to corruption, and they comfort themselves by
saying that it is lost anyhow. They are afraid they will be in-
fected by the children of the world, afraid to soil themselves with
politics, afraid their inner life will be injured. But, of course,
the truth is just the opposite. He who stays in the saltcellar
loses his saltness, not he who goes out into the mass of dough.
Why don't we take the promise and command of Jesus seriously?
Many people say, "I must grow more strong, I must strengthen
my own inner life, before I am ready to speak to others or
confess myself a Christian openly. I would rather stay in the
saltcellar." You -fool, don't you know, haven't you heard that
the spirit of God will give to you abundantly and tell you
what to say, and that you will grow only by getting out of the
saltcellar? But you ?nust get out, or else you will never find out
that this is true. Your inner life grows in doing the tasks your
Lord has set for you, but certainly never in the saltcellar.
Most Christians are stupid. That is to say, disobedience is
always stupidity (in the full sense in which the godless are called
32 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
fools), though most people think that it is wisdom and prudence
that prompts them to disobedience. I noted, for example, during
the church struggle with Hitler, when hard and often dangerous
decisions had to be made, that when a person could not sum-
mon up the courage to be obedient and blindly trust God's
promises he always had the shrewdest arguments and most
elaborate tactical reasons for making his disobedient, and in the
long run stupid, compromises. So it is in this case, the Christian
remains in the saltcellar because he thinks that here he will be
best preserved. He wants to be wise, he wants to be sharp
and in the very act loses his saltness. Salt works, salt remains
salt only as it gives of itself.
Or a Christian puts his light under a bushel simply because
he is afraid that the winds that blow in the evil world, among
his friends in the factory or office or school, who do not believe,
will blow out the light of his faith. The fool! If he would only
dare take Jesus' promise seriously and simply leap joyfully
into life wherever he lives it, he would see that the light will
not be blown out by the wind, but actually rekindled, and that
God, who has given his promise, will never let the glimmering
candle go out. But when that candle is kept under a bushel its
light helps nobody, and, what is more, it exhausts the oxygen
and nothing is left but a nasty, guttery wick.
When the kingdom of God breaks in on the Last Day, God
will first destroy the saltcellars and overturn the bushels; for
the judgment of God will begin with the household of God.
And I fear that then Christendom will present a very sad pic-
ture, a conglomeration of tasteless salt and evil-smelling wicks.
And saddest of all will be that the very ones who were most
religious, the very people who heard the Word of God together
and knew more about the promises of God will constitute the
largest contingent of this rubbish.
So, there you have it, a biting, salty truth that will sting in
some pious people's wounds. But I could not withhold it from
THE SALT, NOT THE HONEY OF THE WORLD 33
you and myself. And it is to be hoped that no one will think it
is the others who are meant.
Salt and light live and work by sacrificing and giving of them-
selves and not by trying to "preserve" themselves. In any case,
Jesus Christ, the faithful Salt and the loyal Light, did not choose
to shine in the glory of heaven and to preserve and save himself
in the pleasant climate of the kingdom of God. No, he came as
a light in the darkness of the world, right down into the midst
of reeling, staggering, unhappy humanity. And if we are all
still alive and the world is given a reprieve, and if this brief
reprieve is not a last respite until we are all blown to bits by
the madness of the atom bomb, but rather a reprieve of grace,
then it will be solely because the one man did not remain in the
heavenly saltcellar (if you will pardon the expression') and hide
himself under the divine bushel, but came down into our world
and gave himself all the way from Bethlehem to Calvary. It is
actually blasphemy to think that heaven is a saltcellar and a bushel.
But do not we Christians act as if it were^ And when we do
so, are we not denying our Lord and denying the deepest intent
of his sacrifice?
So salt and light have one thing in common: they give and
expend themselves and thus are the opposite of any and every
kind of self -centered religiosity. Salt works and expends itself
in secret, and you cannot see it operating. One thinks of the
quiet, unobtrusive influence of a Christian upon his environment,
his family, his associates, which he exerts just by being what he
is, by being there in prayer and in love. One also thinks of
what the New Testament is referring to when it speaks of those
who, "though they do not obey the word, may be 'won 'without
a word by the behavior of their wives" (I Pet. 3:1).
Light, on the other hand, can be seen; it works openly and
visibly. And here one thinks of the church's task of witnessing
publicly to the gospel and of sending men and women into all
branches of public life, in politics, industry, culture, and above
34 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
all, education. God gave his only begotten Son for this world,
therefore we must be light and salt for the world. And certainly
the world is worth serving by our sacrifice. Why? Simply be-
cause this one man poured out his blood for it, because this one
man first sacrificed himself for us all.
You must be the little grain of salt for the little bit of earth
that God has entrusted to you. You must be the glimmer of light
for the little world where you live and have your being.
The Costs of Grace
"Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets;
I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say
to you, nil heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will
pass away from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then
relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so,
shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them
and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes
and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
"You have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall
not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.' But I say
to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable
to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council,
and whoever says, *You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire. So
if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that
your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before
the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come
and offer your gift. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while
you are going out with him to court, lest your accuser hand you
over to the judge, and the judge to die guard, and you be put in
prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid
the last penny.
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has
already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye
causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you
lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into
36 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw
it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your
whole body go into hell.
"It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a
certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that every one who divorces
his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress,
and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."
Probably all of us still remember what was drummed into our
ears some years past: "Faith in God is something for the weak,
the craven, the losers. We steer by our own power, we run on
our own steam."
In the face of such an assertion, are we not reminded that this
faith broke down and overthrew the strongest of men 3 Did it
not hurl Paul trembling to the ground before Damascus 3 And
was not Luther, instead of being provided with crutches and
illusions, nearly burned to ashes under the consuming gaze of
the majesty of God, only to rise from this fearful collapse and
go forth a new man 3
Every man who would go to this Father must first pass through
the most dreadful of danger zones. Every man must face the
eyes of the Judge. Every man must face this question, a ques-
tion which is utterly intolerable without Christ: What do I
look like in the light of the law of God, and, if I must see myself
so (even for a moment 1 ), what do I look like in God's eyes 3
Anybody who would become a new man must first die.
And in this text it is Jesus, this Jesus who brings us to peace,
or better, who himself would be our peace, who sets us down in
the midst of the consuming flame of God's majesty. He sets us
down at the point where we are at the end of our tether. If there
is anybody who hopes that in Christ the real danger spots of
life are rendered harmless, that nothing else can ever happen to
us, because, after all, he is the "kind Savior" who takes back
even hardened sinners with no questions asked well, that per-
THE COSTS OF GRACE 37
son must first come to terms with this text, which says that this
Jesus Christ does not subtract one jot or tittle from the severity
of God's will, that he came not to abolish this threatening law,
but rather to fulfill it, indeed, to make its prof oundest threat
apparent. The truth is that grace is not cheap, but tremendously
costly. What could be more costly than that for which a man
must pay with his life? And Jesus demands nothing less than
that, if we want peace: we must die, utterly, radically, and un-
compromisingly. Without death there is no peace, but only fear,
or failing this, only the narcotization of fear that the worldling
Not long ago on a lecture trip a taxi driver drove me some
distance across country. I should like to recount some of our
conversation because I want young people especially to under-
stand as clearly as possible what I mean by "costly" grace.
My companion said, "I have heard that you are a theologian."
I said that this was so, and he went on to say, "I'm not a Chris-
tian, you know, I really believe in paganism. But you needn't
get out of the car, for I too believe in higher powers."
Whereupon I turned around and asked him, "Where, then,
do you have your mascot doll hanging?"
"No," he replied, "I don't have one in the cab, but I do have
a moneybag over there in the glove compartment. That's my
talisman. But what makes you bring that up? We were talking
about something else."
"Oh," I said, disregarding his mild reproach, "I can tell you
a lot more than that. You don't like to drive on Fridays and
furthermore, you're quite miserable if you have to start out on
the thirteenth. You are also interested in astrology, and I would
be willing to bet that more than once you've had your horoscope
He looked at me in such amazement that we almost drove into
the ditch, despite the talisman.
"How do you know all that? It's true."
38 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
"It's because I know my neopagans well," I replied. "These
people are very uneasy in a world without God; that's why they
need all this stuff. Wise' people like you always have a touch of
persecution mania. You are always seeing the world full of trees,
all waiting to ram into your radiator. One might also say that
you have no peace, that's why you resort to talismans and in-
cantations and try to figure out your fortune by means of a
"Well now, that's putting it a bit too strong, what you say.
But you're not altogether wrong. Anyway, you said something
about 'peace.' That's what we want. . . ."
Here I interrupted him and said, "And surely you know, I
hope, that you will never find it in this way ? "
"Oh," he said, "I feel quite satisfied about it. This little jigger,"
he said, pointing to the magic moneybag, "has really worked
pretty well. But you mustn't think that I despise the church
I tried Christianity once too, just because it says something
"Well," I said, "you really did put your finger on the best
and most important thing in it. That's pretty rare for non-
Chnstians to do. May I ask what it was that stopped you?"
"Shucks, I might as well tell you; it was simply because I
can't take this stuff about Christ. I don't understand how any-
body can believe in a God-man. How do you know all this
stuff the Bible says is true> For those who can believe it, O.K.;
I don't bother with them. But as far as I am concerned, I can't
"And that's where your peace broke down?" I asked. He
replied, somewhat embarrassed, "Well, yes, naturally that's what
it was. But anyhow I already told you I don't feel so bad at all."
"Let me tell you straight, will you, what is the matter with
you," I continued. "In the first place, you don't feel well about
it at all, but, like an old campaigner and taxi driver, you naturally
won't admit it. And, believe me, you won't get anywhere on
1HE COSTS OF GRACE 39
the road you're going. What you're trying to get is an all too
cheap peace. All this stuff you do costs you nothing. You are
probably a good bargainer and you're figuring pretty closely
in this business too. You want to get as much as possible for
the lowest possible price. First you want inner composure, what
we just called 'peace.' But more than that, you want eternity
and you want to get by the Last Judgment. Or are you going
to say that all these dodges, your talisman, your astrology, your
respect for Friday and the thirteenth of the month, are going
to pass you through unscathed and get you off very cheaply?
After all, you can go on living with these things without
changing at alP And this little bit of brooding and thinking
you do about whether there is anything in Jesus Christ, when
you're waiting for a fare and have a little time on your hands,
this naturally will never solve the question for you. The Lord
Christ has never yet held out any promise to those who merely
do a little brooding and thinking about these things."
"Hold on, professor," the man beside me retorted, "after all,
I can't buy a pig in a poke. I can't turn my life inside out and
pay a big price for someone I don't even know, somebody I
don't even know ever lived."
"Nevertheless," I said, and said it as plainly and unrelentingly
as possible, "that's just what you have to do. Christ said that
only he who wills to do the will of the Father in heaven will
know whether his teaching is from God. Understand, only he
who does the will, who is in earnest about it, who stakes his life
on it. God is known only by those who venture, just as all great
things in life are seen only when we are obedient and down-
right serious about them and not when we look at them from
the easy chair of speculation and noncommittal curiosity. And
something more: don't think you will get by with a little phi-
losophy like 'do right and fear no man.' Your talisman doesn't
trouble you at this point at all, it's far from exercising even a
bit of moral control over you. But with Christ the first thing
40 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
you will be shown is that never in a thousand years will you be
able to stand up before God. At first Christ is always very
disturbing. You are dealing with the God who leads men into
hell and out again. You are a nice, easygoing worldling (you
don't mind my saying this straight out^ 1 ) and you have settled
down comfortably in your world-view. You are really con-
vinced that you have not settled down in hell. But if you are
in earnest with Christ, you will have to give up your comfort
and peace of mind, not because you are supposed to become
a nervous worrier, but because it is a false, delusive peace, which
you keep propping up with the power of suggestion and your
little magic devices. But God loves the brokenhearted and the
poor in spirit who have no illusions about their own wretched-
ness as they stand before the face of God. As long as you have
not met God as one who opposes you, you haven't met him at
all. Don't you see that this is something different from all the
magical cribs and crutches and rickety footbridges that you are
trying to use in order to cross the chasms of life> You have
already gained a great deal in at least coming to the point where
you realize that these things you are walking and standing on
are only tottering makeshifts and that beneath you lies an abyss."
Our conversation went on for a long time and even though,
when we came to the Neckar River, he did not, like the Ethiopian
eunuch, say, "See, here is water! What is to prevent my being
baptized?" (Acts 8*36), I was nevertheless grateful that in this
brief hour together something of the peace of God and the
hopeless desolation of his world had been communicated to him.
The thing m this conversation which seems to me to be im-
portant for the understanding of our text is this: that at the
very beginning and as a kind of introduction to discipleship,
Christ makes us feel the implacable severity of the law and thus
leads us to death.
We should really stop to think what this must have meant to
those who were listening to him. After all, they were within a
THE COSTS OF GRACE 41
tradition in which God was taken with an immense seriousness.
Every step was related to God and taken as it were under the
eyes of God. From this there had developed a system of legal
prescriptions that kept a person constantly on tenterhooks and
never allowed him to be certain whether he had really measured
up to the will of God. All of us know pretty well what this
amounted to among the Pharisees. But we need nevertheless
to guard ourselves against ridiculing this earnestness and being
too quick to dismiss it as "morbid legalism." Perhaps it really
was a rather morbid form of taking God seriously; just as today,
when we meet a hard, legalistic Christian we sense a certain
morbidity and the effect it has on us is always somewhat chilling
and repulsive. But is it any less morbid not to take God seriously
at all, any less pathological than calling upon him only at mar-
riages, funerals, and a few times when we are in a tight spot
and even then for the most part only as a matter of form?
In any case, we need to understand what it meant to these
people, that into this world, with its fine-meshed network of
laws, in which one felt more a slave than a child and where
there was no chance of anything but getting more hopelessly
entangled in the snares of guilt and accusing conscience that
into this world there came One in whom one sensed the near-
ness and immediate presence of God and found it to be nothing
less than fatherly, saving love. What a wonderful thing it was
that here should come One who treated a man like a brother and
brought him back to the Father's house T How incredible and
liberating that he should simply take one by the hand, even if
one's hands were soiled! This really was something different
from the servile drudgery of serving the law, in which a man
was never sure whether he had done enough and, as we would
say today, never wholly got over his inferiority feelings.
But here is this very One who seemed to be able to liberate
a man and let him breathe again saying: not one jot shall be
removed from the harshness of the law. Indeed, more than that:
42 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
he made this law so radical that the people's eyes filled with
tears and many of them would have preferred to turn back,
saying: "Even with Moses we had it easier, there at least we
knew where we stood. And even if we never quite fulfilled
the commandments, the disparity between our lives and what
God demanded was at least tolerable and, above all, we could
see what it was. But this Jesus of Nazareth demands the whole
of us, and even declares that the innermost, secret thoughts of
the heart belong to God. He casts us all into utter hopelessness,
and, instead of mitigating the demand, he increases it. Or is it
possible that he means something else when he says, 4 Unless
your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you
will never enter the kingdom of heaven' "?
This faces us with two crucial * questions about this text.
Fzrstj why is it that Jesus proclaims the will of God to us so
radically, so utterly demandmgly (or should I say "crushingly") 5
And second, how can we cope with it*
To begin with the first question: Jesus makes it clear to us
that God's demand lays claim not only upon our acts but even
the thoughts of our hearts
Naturally, we are not all murderers and adulterers in the out-
ward sense. In this respect most of us have fairly clean hands.
But what about our hearts^ 5 Do we not all have in us what
Adalbert Stifter called a "tiger-like tendency" which is so hid-
den in normal life that one might think it \\asn't there at alp
Do we really know "what unknown beasts may not be evoked
within us by the dreadful force of the facts^ All the forces that
suddenly emerge when life situations occur in which the usual
inhibitions are gone? For many of us was not the prison camp,
with its hunger pains, its lust for life, and its extreme nervous
strain, such a place where that "dieadful force of the facts"
\\ as released, a place in which we were shocked at ourselves and
the beast in others 5 Those others who hitherto had been decent
or at least passable comrades? Did not many, even of the young-
1HE COSTS OF GRACE 43
est, acquire a knowing eye, because for a moment or for several
weeks or months they were forced to look at a mere fragment
of what God's eye sees in us day and night, hour after hour,
far behind and deep beneath our outward acts 5
The point is that God sees deeper than our normal, foolish
eyes that merely linger on the surface of things. He sees the
many thoughts that are on the ready for murder and adultery.
He sees the consuming jealousy that is eating us as we shake
hands with our competitor outwardly and secretly wish he were
in Jericho. He sees the impure glances and the furious eager-
ness of our imagination. And when we go a step deeper, into
the witches' cauldron of the unconscious, from which our life
is so largely controlled and in which are brewed the dreams that
horrify us, the picture looks even more sinister. The psychiatrists
can tell us something about this. But, we ask, does not all this
the thoughts of the heart, the unconscious mind, our dreams-
constitute an area that isn't really a part of "me," because, after
all, "I" am only the conscious mind, the part that understands
and controls? Or must I not say: this too is "/." These are my
thoughts, this is my imagination, this is my murdering and lying
and adultery, even though these things never see the light of day.
Why is it that they so seldom see the light of day?
Perhaps because I haven't the nerve, perhaps because I have
too many inhibitions that are tied up with my position in society
to do too openly what I have the urge to do. I have an interest
in wanting to be respected by people, I am afraid of the con-
Perhaps, perhaps I also do not murder and lie and commit
adultery because it is clearly forbidden by God's law and be-
cause I have respect for his commandments. But at the very
moment when I feel the command of God as an inhibition and
allow it to restrain me I perceive why it was that I was restrained.
The commandment of God makes me all the more conscious of
the opposition, the rebellion that is within me and the terrible
44 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
hostility of the parties that are warring within my soul. (Any-
body who wants to see what that means has only to read the
seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans.) I may be fighting
a fierce battle with sin and for a moment I may think that I am
fighting something alien to myself. But 7 myself am the antagonist.
It is not the "sin which dwells within me," but / myself. Paul
knew all about this (Rom. 7.20).
That's why the law must remain in all its severity! It must
remain like gauze in the deep wound in our heart, to keep it
from healing too easily and forming an invisible scar that would
fool us into thinking that we are not wounded and sick at all,
that we do not need anybody to die for us and to forgive and
heal us as a savior.
Are not all of us in danger of removing this gauze and not
only deluding ourselves with some smooth kind of healing but
even imagining that we were never really so badly wounded
and sick after alP
We all know what the Christian education of youth has meant
for our whole nation. But it is no disparagement of this positive
contribution of Christian instruction to point out that there is
also a danger in it. From our youth up we have been taught
to take it almost for granted that God is prepared to forgive
everything and that the seal of our baptism has been stamped
upon this full pardon. We have in our pocket a document in
black and white to prove it. Why, it was there m our cradle
and now, as licensed possessors of a bapdsmal certificate and
contributors to the church, we can produce it any time we
please. Even Peter will have to let us in when we pull our
"pass to heaven" out of our pocket. And certainly there will
be at least standing room for us in heaven.
That, you see, is the other side of the medal. On one side
is stamped the great and genuine seal of mercy, but on this side
well, I think you understand what I mean.
There is a danger of being sure of forgiveness before one
THE COSTS OF GRACE 45
has become insecure because of one's sins. It is possible to come
out in the end with the view of Heinrich Heine who said,
"God will pardon me, it is his trade," thinking we can be quite
assured that at the right moment God will do his duty to our
Always happy, always happy,
Every day is happy day,
For the Father up in heaven
Calls us his little children.
Rather soppy and infantile, isn't it, even though it is most cer-
fcinly true that God calls us his children. But because we are
his children, blood was shed, and that's something that is abso-
lutely not to be taken for granted, for this the Cross was raised
dh Golgotha, for this the very heart of God was wounded. How
then should we forget our own wounds f
But if we do forget, then we take grace for granted. And
that's the worst. Then you can have it cheap, dirt cheap like
some half-decayed merchandise thrown in for anybody who
will take the stuff away with them. Then this grace becomes
merely another term for the innocuousness of God. The Last
Judgment becomes a monstrosity of perverted medieval imagina-
tion and the law of God is transformed from an electrically
charged barbed wire that separates us from the majesty of God
into a hedge of roses in whose shadow one can booze and
carnalize and murder and play the black market to one's heart's
content. And therefore, in order that that should not happen,
Jesus here breaks open our deepest wound and stuffs it with
gauze, however severely it may hurt. Suddenly the Crucified
is facing us here; and before we hear his cheering, redeeming
words, "This have I done for you," we must daily be heard
saying, "This have I done against thee." Only then will we com-
prehend the cross of Calvary. Otherwise it becomes so innocuous
that ladies dare to use it to ornament an evening dress.
46 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
It should be clear by now that here we are dealing with a
terribly serious matter. It is so serious that Luther said one
must necessarily go down to despair and utter ruin because of it.
And we all know how he himself was shattered.
But this brings us to our second question, the despairing
question- How can we ever get across this terrible chasm that
separates us from God, this chasm that is no less terrifying for
all our expenditure of energy, wit, and spiritual training in seeking
to blink and evade it?
Lather once said that "at first" God is my accuser and my
heart my defender. What he meant was that when God ad-
dresses to me the whole, unconditional law that makes its absolute
claim upon me, as is done in the Sermon on the Mount, my heart
immediately moves over to a defensive position and says to me-
"How can God demand this of me? You really cannot help it
if evil thoughts spring up in your heart and all kinds of things
bubble up m your unconscious mind. You are responsible only
for that sector of your ego which you can control as an acting,
willing, conscious person You can say," whispers my conscience,
arguing as my attorney, "that any demand that goes beyond
this sector is not your responsibility."
But then comes the second act, says Luther, and the tables
are turned. Here my heart is the accuser and God is my
defender. What Luther means is that in the second act, when
God has overcome me, my conscience can only say to me in all
candor "You did not come from the hands of God in the state
you are in now, with all your ulterior motives and all the evil
impulses above and below the threshold of your consciousness.
Therefore everything that is in you is charged to your account."
But then God makes the ultimate reply to this self-accusation;
he tells me that he will take over my defense and that he will
not allow these terrible things that are in and behind my thoughts
and words and deeds to separate me from him.
Look, that is really all there is to it: to let God defend you,
THE COSTS OF GRACE 47
or better, to let Jesus Christ take up your cause! But in letting
him take up my cause, I never lose the consciousness that there
is something within me against which he must fight. In letting
God defend me, I know that there is something within me
agamst which he must defend me. And that preserves me from
pride and carelessness.
What a tremendous, almost incomprehensible thing this is!
What God does is to take me into protective custody against
myself, by setting me down beneath the Cross. Now nothing
can harm me, now, above all, I cannot harm myself.
There is my accusing conscience] never am I safe from it.
How it loves to keep gnawing constantly or suddenly to spring
upon me in the middle of the night, confronting me with the
secrets of my heart. But then within me my divine defender
cries out: "Christ is here!" I am in his care and custody.
There is death) that keeps lying and telling me that all life is
meaningless, that all will sink into nothingness. But then comes
the voice: Christ is here! If I live, I live in him, and if I die, I
can only die to him. Whether I live or whether I die, I am with
him and nowhere else.
There is suffering, grinning, unmeaning, unmanning suffering,
the misery of the whole earth and all that rocks me in my own
life. And here again comes the voice saying, Christ is here!
Everything that strikes me must first pass before him, and all
the horrors of history cannot finally prevent it from reaching
the eternal goal of his love and ending at the foot of his throne.
Because God reaches out to me with his love, because he
suffered for me, because his heart beats for me as he comes to
meet me on the steps of the Father's house thafs why, and that's
the only reason why I can love him in return. That's the only
reason that, suddenly, I am able to fulfill the whole law. For,
after all, love is the fulfillment of the law. And here we see a
great mystery becoming clear. We begin to see why the law
48 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
can never bring us to the goal, why it can only wound us and
keep us wounded.
For I cannot love by being commanded to love. Commands
only restrain me. But to obey, to rein in and stop always means
that I have to overcome, fight down something within myself.
It is the base man, the old Adam within me that is subject to
commands, the old Adam of weariness, of fear, of defiance.
So when I merely obey commands I am never there as a whole
person, but perhaps at most only with the better half of my
self, while the other half remains in opposition. But when I love
I am there as a 'whole person, for love is a movement of my
'whole heart, love is always an_qyerflowmg, limitless giving of
one's self . Therefore it can never be commanded, it can only
In other words, I can only give my whole heart when another
whole heart gives itself to me. I can only love if love is shown
And this is precisely the miracle that occurs when I stand
before Jesus Christ. For there I see the Father's heart, the heart
that tore itself away from that which it most loved, the only
begotten Son, the heart that bled for my sake; the heart that
beats for a man who stands in the lowest place and dares not
even to lift his eyes. And this man is 7.
Look, now I can love the One who suddenly stands beside
me in the lowest place, instead of remaining m the glory of
What the thunders of Mount Sinai could not accomplish
the liberating of my heart to make it free to love, to be a
child, and to feel at home in the Father's house this is accom-
plished by the one who comes to me as my brother.
Coming down to the depths to fetch me, he says to the Father,
"Look, here I bring him; I have bought him at great price."
And because and on account of my brother, Jesus Christ, I
THE COSTS OF GRACE 49
So now when we hear the words, "We love, because he first
loved us," we know that this is not a "command" or a "law."
We know that this answering love is only an echo that wells
up overwhelmingly in my heart, an echo of an exultant cer-
tainty I am loved, I am loved, I can come to God!
Every Word an Oath
"Again you have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall
not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have
sworn ' But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for
it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by
Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear
by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let
what you say be simply 'Yes 1 or 'No'; anything more than this comes
from evil." Matthew y33-3~i
This text* speaks of the sacredness of our word. It says that
every "Yes" and every "No" we utter is spoken absolutely and
before God, and that every word, including many a wave of
the hand or gesture or wry face (for these can say far more than
words, they can speak volumes!), that every word of ours is
deemed so important that the Last Judgment will concern itself
with them and will surprise us with a precise enumeration of
every careless word we have uttered (Matt. 12:36).
But how can we account for the fact that what we say has
such weight^ 3 Can we take this at all seriously?
Just think of all the driveling words that are spoken, written,
affirmed in lovers' oaths and never kept, hissed in hatred and
later rued. Think of the words that fly from mouth to mouth
on the gray wings of rumor, all quite anonymous and nobody
* The chapter heading is the formulation of Julius Schmewind.
EVERY WORD AN OATH 51
responsible. Think of the thousands of "Heil Hitlers" that have
thickened the air, and the thousands who disassociated them-
selves from it all with the lame excuse that it was a word with-
out content, an empty matter of form. The question is, how-
ever, whether the Last Judgment will take the same view. And
here we are told that all these words are stored away in eternity
and that they possess an infinite weight and consequence. Can
one really take words so terribly solemnly, so frightemngly
Here is Faust, sitting in his study, opening his Bible. He is
irked by the opening sentences of the Gospel of John: "In the
beginning was the Word."
Here now I'm balked! Who'll put me in accord?
It is impossible, the Word so high to prize,
I must translate it otherwise.
And finally, as you know, Faust decided to say: "In the begin-
ning was the Deed."
Now I suspect that I am speaking for all of us when I say
that all of us, moved by natural enthusiasm or perhaps by a
fierce grief over the terrible declension of man's speech and
writing, might wish to take this dictum, "It is impossible, the
Word so high to prize," and make it our own.
And yet, if we as Christians have strong inhibitions about
accepting this Faustiau translation of John's Gospel, and thus
subjecting even the divine Word to this universal depreciation
of speech and words, then undoubtedly the reason is that there
really is no difference between what the Gospel of John calls
the "Word" and what we in our language call "deed." When
God speaks, this is no empty talk: then something happens; 'when
he speaks it stands forth, it is done (Ps, 33:9). This world of
ours was created through the Word, and therefore this Word
of creation was an act, a deecj. And when Jesus Christ says to
a sick and guilt-ridden man, "Rise, take up your bed and walk,"
54 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
ment from my ordinary, everyday speech. I invoke the name
of God "exceptionally" in making an affirmation. But by the
very exceptional way in which I do this I am really saying:
ordinarily God is not necessarily present in what I say, and
therefore my ordinary speech does not have the same degree
of bindingness and earnestness which I now want to emphasize.
In other words, I am trying with the help of an oath to increase
artificially the specific gravity of my word, and by this very
token I am admitting that ordinarily my word does not neces-
sarily possess this specific gravity, and hence that "as a rule"
I merely float along on the stream of ordinary chatter.
Once you discover this fact you will recognize it in all forms
of asseveration. What do we mean, for example, when we
say, "I give you my word of honor"? Surely we mean: I vouch
for it, I stake my reputation upon it, I will stand or fall by
what I say. But the very fact that I must emphasize this ex-
plicitly means that "as a rule" I am not present in my word as
in a home, but rather let my tongue run around freely like a
Let us say I have told my child the old story of the stork,
because his question made me uncomfortable. I merely in-
dulged in a bit of stupid talk. And, I say to myself, I can per-
mit myself this kind of irresponsible talk, because, after all,
everybody does it. The child, I tell myself, will sooner or later
find out what the true facts are. (But do I consider that by
planting this harmless untruth I am at the same time sowing
a very small seed of distrust in this child's heart, which perhaps
will not spring up until the time of puberty, when my child
avoids me as far as these questions are concerned?) But what
if, after the telling of this silly stork story, the child should
suddenly ask and certainly this is something he never does!
"On your word of honor, father, is it really true? Are you
willing to stand or fall by this story?" Then we would sud-
EVERY WORD AN OATH 55
denly realize that our word had no specific gravity at all and
that once more it was nothing but empty talk.
Or if I said, "I have no time," or if I said any number of
times, "Heil Hitler," and somebody asked me, "On your word
of honor, do you stand or fall on that?" I would suddenly
realize with horror that I had been babbling irresponsible stupid-
ities, that I have been playing the hypocrite and lying, rep-
rehensibly and carelessly playing with the bombshell of human
speech which is loaded with all the powers of heaven and hell.
And is not all this really horrible, utterly terrifying? When-
ever I utter the formula "I swear by God," I am really saying,
"Now I'm going to mark off an area of absolute truth and put
walls around it to cut it off from the muddy floods of untruth-
fulness and irresponsibility that ordinarily overruns my speech/'
In fact, I am saying even more than this. I am saying that peo-
ple are expecting me to lie from the start. And just because
they are counting on my lying I have to bring up these big guns
of oaths and words of honor m order to drive a breach into
these abysmally pessimistic prejudices of my fellow men, this
closed phalanx of distrust (and quite justified distrust too!).
A sign of increasing deceit and a correspondingly increasing
mutual distrust in our day is the almost inflationary increase
of oaths and loyalty pledges. How many oaths were demanded
during the Third Reich, from Hitler Youth cubs to pensioners;
how many questionnaires we had to sign and solemnly swear
to in the presence of witnesses and guarantors, because words
had become cheap, because they had lost their eternal weight,
and men had to look around for something artificial to use as
makeweight. We pray that our people, who have been literally
educated to hypocrisy (and are still being so trained in the
East!), a hypocrisy in which almost every word meant some-
thing different from its ordinary signification (nor was the
church by any means a hundred percent exception 1 ), have not
lost the Word for ever. We pray that they may still find their
56 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
way back to the real and true Word and in that Word regain
the trust of others in the veracity of what they say, so that,
having this one Word, all their other, everyday words will be
given weight and bindingness. May it be given to them to find
this one Word, without which all others are as shifting sand,
and that is: "My Lord and my God."
He who has learned to speak this word, this word that
resfonds to God's Word, becomes uniquely credible in a world
of deceit, because he knows the face of God and has begun
to speak in his presence.
In his controversies with the Pharisees, Jesus calls our atten-
tion to another subtle form of lying: "Woe to you, blind guides,
who say, 'If any one swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if
any one swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his
oath'" (Matt. 23:16).
Back of this saying, which sounds rather involved and remote
from our own way of thinking, there is a message that goes
directly to the center of our life today.
In the oath that is quoted the Pharisees evidently meant that
when a man swore by the temple one could not hold him to it
absolutely, even though what he said might be true. But when
a man swore by the gold of the temple, then there could be no
quibbling and twisting, then he must stand by his word.
In other words, by general agreement there are cases in which
one does not have to speak the truth, cases in which there may
be a mental reservation.
Once we put it this way we immediately sense that it directly
For among us too there is this tacit, openly secret under-
standing that certain things we say are not binding. Certain
forms of courtesy give occasion to affirm the opposite of what
one really thinks. Then there is the big subject of white lies,
including everything from saying "I don't have time" to telling
EVERY WORD AN OATH 57
the maid to say that "Mr. and Mrs. are not at home," while they
are sitting comfortably at tea not ten steps away. In the army
but certainly not confined to it there is a well-developed tech-
nique for not telling the truth about certain things, a vocabulary
tested by centuries of usage that indicates what one is to say
in this or that situation and what one conceals while saying it.
In any case, there are in the life of human society certain
areas in which by universal agreement what we say is not taken
seriously, in which our word has almost completely lost its
specific gravity. Consequently, a person who was accused of
telling a lie when he said that he was not at home to a visitor
would actually feel that he was being unfairly slandered, since,
after all, a little white lie like that is beyond good and evil,
because it is, so to speak, sanctioned by society and one must
not weigh every word so scrupulously. I am afraid, however,
that the combined weight of all the words we have not care-
fully weighed here below will quickly tip the balance in the
Last Judgment. Hermann Bezzel, the great preacher, quite
rightly said, "White lies are silken threads that bind us to the
Enemy, invisible webs that are woven in hell."
True, they are "silken threads" which are not seen at first.
In hell everything begins with little innocuous things. The
history of the world began with an insignificant grab for an
apple. In ordinary speech one would never think of calling it
stealing, but probably only "rigging" or "cutting corners," and
yet Cain's murder of his brother, the building of the tower of
Babel, wars and rumors of wars are all related to these little
manipulations. A murder begins with the slender, silken fibers
of a few thoughts, quite internal, naturally, and well concealed
in the precincts of the heart where thoughts have their privileged
freedom and nobody can be forbidden to think. An adultery
begins with a glance. And the bonds of the greatest passions
were once but silken threads. Just as that which at first hardly
moves the balance finally tips the scales in the Last Judgment,
58 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
so the delicate web of trivialities becomes a closely woven net
of ropes in which the Accuser seeks to catch us and bring us
as spoils to the Last Judgment.
But, you ask, isn't all this a little, or even a great deal, ex-
aggerated and isn't there some good sense in leaving open a
few areas of life where we do not need to be so serious about
God, where we can play about a bit? Why should this mean
that we are really being bound to the Enemy with silken threads' 5
And this confronts us with a great Christian mystery. The
fact is that there is no area whatsoever, which, the very moment
it is removed from God not necessarily with wicked intent,
but merely in the sense of declaring it to be a religious no
man's land, an area beyond good and evil is not immediately
taken over by the Enemy. And here again the invasion does
not begin with beating drums and flying colors; at first it is
by no means demonstrative; first he works through his "fifth
column," which operates anonymously and in the dark.
But isn't it true that what we here ask for on a small scale,
namely, this zone where we can be free from God, has actually
become a large-scale reality in our world? Have not men de-
manded the autonomy of politics, economics, science, and art,
areas that have their own laws and in which the law of God
has nothing to say?
How small has become the segment of life in which we are
still willing to grant supremacy to the sovereignty of God!
And when we do concede it, it is at most a kind of limited
and constitutional monarchy, in which we men desire to sit in
parliament and thus occupy the real key position of power.
How dreadfully far we have departed from the earnestness
of those words of the New Testament which tell us that all
power in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ the
Lord, and that therefore there is no private recess of the heart,
no public area of life, no treaty between nations, no word
whispered in the dark which is not subject to all his command-
EVERY WORD AN OATH 59
ments and which will not have to be accounted for in the Last
This little study of the gravity of our word really has brought
us face to face with the ultimate question. There is One who
never stops asking us questions.
And now we may make this simple, practical observation:
once a man breaks through this area of little untruths, of con-
ventional lies and white lies and is honest in the sight of God
and the Last Judgment he experiences at least two things.
First, he learns how hard it is at first to break through this
unspoken agreement on the part of the world. One actually
feels a bit queer about it, and at first one exposes oneself to
the suspicion of being eccentric.
But then, secondly, we discover what a tremendous liberation
it brings when we decide nevertheless to do so as soon as we
have gotten past the suspicion that we are merely being crudely
frank and those around begin to see under whose command we
are. The avoidance of one small fib, which may be fully recog-
nized as legitimate, may be a stronger confession of faith than
a whole "Christian philosophy" championed in lengthy, forceful
discussions. When I stand before a superior in this defenseless,
honest openness, renouncing any pretense whatsoever which
means standing before him in the name of Jesus Christ he will
suddenly see in me the representative of my Lord, acting in His
name, and all the moralistic self-confidence with which he usually
reacts in such cases will collapse. A subordinate will see my
honest exposure of myself if I do it in the name of Jesus
not as a loss of authority, but rather as the strength that I can
freely afford to show as a servant of a strong Lord.
I will begin to learn that under the dominion of this Lord
trust and confidence grow in a way totally different from the
way in which I try to gain and keep it with my little fibs and
pretenses. I will begin to note in those around me something
of that longing for freedom from dishonesty which everybody
60 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
has within him and which makes him look with eagerness to
the Christians around him to see whether this kind of honesty
and this freedom of the children of God is really possible in
this world and whether it is really true that he whom the Son
makes free is really and truly free (John 8:36). Only the man
who under Jesus Christ gains the freedom to be truthful simply
because he believes the promise that all who let him be their
Lord will not be put to shame begins to realize what servitude
he was living in when he was chained to hell with the silken
threads of conventional deceit and mendacity.
Surely we shall not pretend that all this is so much harder
than simply submitting to the law of inertia and continuing to
lie! In reality nothing is more onerous and afflicting than to
be bound to hell; and nothing is easier than to risk the leap into
the freedom which the Son of God has promised us and sealed
with his death. Here it is really true that "his commandments
are not burdensome," for they do not demand that we go out
and do battle with a whole world of lies that could frighten
us! but only that we love him who has already overcome this
world of lies. But when this happens it has already been pro-
vided for that we shall be made a part of our Lord's overcoming
of the world and that we may participate in this overcoming
in the victory of Jesus Christ.
What a difference it would make if our "Yes" and our "No"
really acquired this significance of overcoming the world, if in
every moment they were uttered as in the presence of God,
if we were no longer dependent on the expedients of little lies
and duplicities, and all this simply because Jesus has overcome
this world, because we really do not need to act as if we must
run with the pack, as if there were areas in which he is not Lord!
Therefore when we are obliged to swear oaths or give our
word of honor in this fallen world we shall always remember
that this is only a temporal necessity in a world shot through
with lies and that it is only with the help of this expediency
EVERY WORD AN OATH 61
that at least one area in this world is marked off in which by
way of exception the truth is to be told. We should reflect
that this is the same kind of emergency measure or concession
as that of divorce, which likewise may become necessary in an
adulterous world and be allowed by God in his condescending
patience. Therefore with the freedom that we have to say a
simple "Yes" and "No" we should show how gladly we bid
farewell to this world of lies and how glorious is the freedom
of the children of God, who have come into the truth because
they belong to the Lord of truth.
Ever since Jesus Christ became the Word made flesh and thus
honored our human speech by framing the message of life in
human words these words of ours have become hallowed things.
Ever since the Savior hung upon the Cross we feel a certain
repugnance to the use of it as an ornament and frivolous bauble.
But just as the Savior hung upon the Cross, so he also hung
upon words: he was crucified by the words of men, by your
words and mine, the words in which, together with Pilate, we
refused to believe that there is a King of truth in a world where
selfish interests precede truth. He was crucified by words
uttered by you and me in which we solemnly declared that we
want notihing to do with this man who is the witness of our
deepest dishonor and whose pity knows no limits (Nietzsche).
He was hanged upon the word of God's promise that he would
seek us through pain and pay the price for us.
Ever since that happened our human words have * been
freighted with the heavy burden of the crucified Savior. So
whenever we demean our human speech to the level of stupid
drivel and deceit and thus empty it of any weight, we are
doing nothing less than throwing off from our words this pre-
cious burden of the Savior and consigning him to a second
death, which this time will bring us no blessing.
Let us remember, then, this costly weight and gravity of
human words and remember, too, that the same words we use
62 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
in our everyday speech are the elements with which our prayers
are made. Think of what that means! It means that the wicked
thoughts of our wicked hearts may be lifted up in prayer to
God, and our tongue, that dreadful firebrand, is able to put
these thoughts into words and send them up to God. This is
the great transformation of our speech, and it is given to those
who live under the King of truth and have begun to taste the
royal freedom that he alone imparts.
"Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No', anything more
than this comes from evil."
Say "Yes" to Jesus Christ, and you gain eternity.
Say "No," and you throw it all away.
Two words encompass our eternal destiny.
These two words should also give to our speech in the world
the character of conciseness and responsibility. But above them
all stands the petition: Forgive us our trespasses!
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth
for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But
if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other
also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have
your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go
with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not
refuse him who would borrow from you.
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor
and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and
pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your
Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and
on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if
you love those who love you, what reward have you p Do not even
the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your
heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:28-48
Whenever we hear this, perhaps the most difficult and darkest
passage in the New Testament, we are overtaken by two feelings.
On the one hand we feel that we are being taken clean out
of this world the world of distrust, the world of brutal struggle
around the feeding trough, the strained atmosphere of a land
crowded with too many people, where a multitude of people,
each with their own instinct for self-preservation, are competing
with one another and set down in a peaceful countryside. And
64 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
here there seems to be no suffering and no crying, here the sun
of God's mercy shines on the evil and on the good.
"Sweet peace come, ah come to my heart" we feel like saying
as we catch a glimpse of this landscape, and there steals over us
a haunting sense of what God really intends this unhappy, self-
devouring world of ours to be.
But then almost at once there comes disenchantment. Is not
this country where love rules and enmity is dethroned just a
fairyland, an unreal dream? And is it not a painful sign of
weakness to dwell on such dreams of a peaceful world with no
hate or rancor in it? After all, we have to live this life, this
dangerous life as it really is, we have to keep our feet on this
earth, even if it is a cruel earth.
Did not Jesus Christ himself endure this earth? Was not his
cruel cross rammed down into this very earth a sign that he
knew and was close to its torment and its hardness? So how
could we ever seriously suppose that this Jesus this Jesus who
knew better than anyone "what is in man," who cast himself
upon the mercy of this beast which is man, in full consciousness
of what he was doing how could we seriously believe, I ask,
that this Jesus indulged in visionary daydreams, unreal and alien
to this world? At best the beast in man can be caged, perhaps
tamed and trained a bit, but it can by no means be ignored or
banished. Why should we think that Jesus of Nazareth should
be the one person of all men not to have seen this?
No, we shall not be able to dismiss these words that easily.
This plausible explanation might perhaps be possible if these
words had been spoken by some visionary pacifist who had not
yet learned what human nature is. But with Jesus, who knows
more about men than anyone else, this is certainly ruled out.
In any case, we must face these words of Jesus with all their
problematical difficulty. Besides, I do not believe that it is
Jesus' wish that we simply accept everything he says, as it
were, "right off the bat" Indeed, the very ones he loved were
NO RETALIATION 1 65
those for whom faith came hard, simply because they took him
more seriously than those who would swallow anything so
long as it was religious. The doubters are always more blessed
than the mere fellow travelers in faith. For they are the only
ones who fully learn that their Lord is stronger than any doubt
and any hell of despair.
So let us take our doubt to Jesus and ask him quite frankly
"Jesus of Nazareth, what would happen if we took seriously
what you say about turning the other cheek to one who strikes
us? What would happen if we did not assert our rights when
some slick crook takes our coat and we let him take even our
shirt in the name of God? What would it lead to, Jesus, if we
tried to love our enemy? Wouldn't that be utterly unrealistic?
Wouldn't it ultimately mean being unfaithful to our commit-
ment, which we may possibly have to maintain despite all opposi-
tion and opponents? Would not this lead to a characterless
obliteration of all the distinctions which you yourself, Jesus
of Nazareth, took seriously when you said that you had not
come to bring peace, but a sword?
"More than this, the whole order of law would be destroyed
by what you say. Would not obedience to your strange com-
mandments lead to anarchy and bloody revolution? Would not
the whole underworld raise its brazen face and run loose because
nobody would be allowed to oppose it, and would not that
result, not in a peaceful countryside, but a dictatorship of scoun-
drels? Would not this mean the triumph of all the base and
brutal instincts? Do you mean to say, Jesus of Nazareth, that
this is what you want?"
The fact is that we cannot simply swallow these doubts; and
besides as far as I can see they arise not only from our own
nature but from Jesus himself.
But what would happen if we were to turn the question the
other way around?
Assume for a moment that Jesus' demand that we love our
66 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
enemies were actually in force as a law. Assume that we were
really required by law to be limitlessly and unconditionally
merciful. Suppose that this were actually so, and simply because
God is limidessly and unconditionally merciful to us (Luke
6:36), because he disregards our enmity and our rebellion I
ask you, then would not the fact that we absolutely cannot fulfill
this command of Jesus and the fact that this world actually re-
fuses any such fulfillment of it be a sign of how lost and es-
tranged from God this world order is? So perhaps we have no
right at all to cast doubt upon this love-commandment of Jesus
in the name of the brutal laws of this world and ridicule it as
unrealistic and alien to this world. Perhaps we shall have to turn
around completely and in the name of this love-commandment
call the world in question, concluding that it is a world sold
out of sin and enmity, a mad, deranged, disordered world. Have
not all of us asked ourselves at one time or another perhaps
as businessmen confronted with a host of restrictive regulations
and tax laws, or people caught in the mechanisms of general
competition and then having to run with the pack, play the
game, and go along with various shady, dubious practices if they
are not to go under have not all of us asked ourselves whether
it is even remotely possible to carry out the will of God in this
world without compromising, even if we personally were deter-
mined to do so? And if, in spite of this, we tried to do so,
wouldn't we really lose out and go under, just because the rules
in this world are more brutal than those in the Sermon on the
Mount, just because you have to fight your way through
enmities, competition, and opposition, just because you cannot
bridge them over with love at least if we set any value on
keeping at least one foot on the ground and not be left holding
the bag every time?
So we must catch very clearly this one note in our text. In
this text there is an indictment of our whole world, a tremen-
dous protest in which Jesus strictly refuses to go along with
NO RETALIATION! 67
the conventions of this world, absolutely refuses to recognize
the law that one must run with the pack. In it is the note of
Jesus' great sorrow over what has become of his Father's world,
over the fact that the mark of mercy has been so completely
erased from its midst, even though the world itself continues
to exist only by this mercy and patience of God. Behind these
words of Jesus is the knowledge that God and this world are
at cross purposes, that the two live in dreadful contradiction
to each other in a contradiction whose witness is the bloody
cross of Calvary.
This becomes especially clear when we consider that here
Jesus' mercy is at odds, not merely with certain degenerate
aspects of the world, but even with the completely legal and
recognized juridical ordinances of our world. For it is true,
isn't it, that "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" is a
recognized principle of law? After all, the whole system of
civil, penal, and international law in our world is based on coun-
terbalance of values and reparation. How could the world
ever be kept in order and balance except through retribution
and reparation? Everything in life must be paid for, melting
guilt; and therefore the dictum stands: "an eye for an eye and
a tooth for a tooth."
And here Jesus seems to be challenging and contradicting
this whole process, this whole order of the world. He seems to
be setting his face against it in protest.
What is he, a Utopian, a revolutionary, to dare to do such
a thing* Is he a visionary, a fanatic, who in the end will be
crushed under the wheels of this world's order, which, despite
all his warnings, he could not reverse or stop?
And was it not a hideous irony that this Jesus Christ, the Son
of God should actually have been condemned in a legal trial and,
apparently, was not a victim of an illegal judicial murder?*
* Many exegetes interpret the trial of Jesus otherwise.
68 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
Does not this express all the futility and also the complete
dubiousness of this protest?
But I believe that by taking all our doubts as seriously as
we have and stating them frankly to Jesus we have already gone
too far and gotten off on a wrong path.
Did Jesus really want to abolish all law* In any case our
Lord's own conduct throughout his life speaks against this
He by no means simply presented the other cheek to those
who struck him, but rather took to task the police who were
arresting him (Mark 14:48, John 18.23). Another time, it is
true, he suffered in silence and when he was reviled, he did not
revile in return (Mark 15.19). He also directed his disciples
not to expose themselves defenselessly to assassins on their lonely
missionary journeys, but rather to take with them a sword
And did he not also allow divorce at least because of hardness
of heart and grant that anyone who was married to an adulterer
might separate from this his partner and thus dissolve the mar-
riage on his part thus answering one solution with another
"an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth"? Need I go on and
point out that Paul too appealed to Roman law and hence
appealed to and went along with the order of this world (Acts
16:17ff.; 22.25ff.; 25-10ff.)?
So the matter is not so simple that we can say that here Jesus
was bluntly liquidating all law and order with one mighty
principle and that he was the one person in this world who did
not see that then chaos and anarchy, but heaven knows not the
kingdom of God, would triumph.
In this stark, slashing, striking, and therefore unescapable way
of stating it, Jesus is saying to us that human law and justice
are incapable of regulating our relation to our neighbor as God
wants it to be, but that the law is only a regulation of necessity
which is necessary in our fallen world.
NO RETALIATION! 69
And here we must become completely practical, so practical
that you and I will know that we are being addressed.
Let us think, for example, of the house regulations in an
apartment or tenement house. In these days the kitchen and
other rooms may even have to be shared with the other oc-
cupants and recently arrived refugees. This means that every-
thing has to be regulated even more strictly by means of house
rules, in other words, by means of "law."
Nobody can doubt that these rules are necessary, for other-
wise the result would be a hopeless, slovenly mess, and in no
time at all the decent housewife would be imposed upon by the
sloppy ones, having to clean up the mess they have left. This
is why there have to be precise rules governing everything from
keeping the stairways clean to the use of the laundry.
Now, when I think only in "legal" terms (which in itself is
altogether correct), I am interested in the occupant of the floor
below or the fellow user of the kitchen only from the point of
view whether he is a good, helpful neighbor, a troublemaker,
or a sloven.
Then this also affects my attitude toward him. If he irritates
me by his tardiness, if he upsets all my plans for getting the
laundry done, or if he neglects to keep the steps clean, then I
do the same thing to him, so that he may get a lesson in what
this does to a person. I say to myself quite rightly (and on the
human level nobody can object to it in principle, though this
bit of revenge also gives one a "human-all-too-human" satisfac-
tion): I had better teach him the rule "What you do not want
others to do to you, do not do to others."
On the other hand, if he is neat and helpful, he gets a cor-
responding response from me. The fact is that all life in this
world is built upon this law of response in the good and in the
Unquestionably, this is the way things are on the human level
But the moment I see the other person before God, where I
70 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
myself stand as a disciple of Jesus, then I know that Jesus Christ
died for this other person, this unpleasant, irritating, disagree-
able, and perhaps unprincipled person, and by that very act
this other person acquires his infinite importance. Before, I saw
him only from the point of view of whether he helped or
harmed me. And so I myself was always in the center of all
the rules according to which I dealt with him. In the last
analysis I was the end for which he was a suitable or unsuit-
But now, beneath the eyes of Jesus, the whole question
changes. There I no longer stand in the center, but rather the
other person. There I must ask myself: What has happened that
this other person has become what suddenly he now is? He
may perhaps be a refugee, with a future so leaden and hopeless
that he hardly pays any attention to the impression he is making
upon others. Perhaps his life has been shadowed by severe
suffering which has made him bitter or broken his character.
Perhaps too he has an unfortunate heredity and to be quite
fair with him one must see him against the background of his
whole family. Perhaps too he had a bad bringing up. So I look
at him with the eyes of compassion and begin to understand
him, because I love him as the poor and needy brother of Jesus
Christ. Quietly and mysteriously, therefore, my whole stand-
ard of judgment has shifted. Now of first importance is that
I care about the other person himself, that I take him seriously
and consider him important enough to dignify him in this way,
and that I stop asking what his relationship to me is and thus
stop taking only myself seriously. In other words, that I stop
thinking of myself as the only end which the other person
Then, because under the eyes of Jesus I see this other person
in a wholly new way, with a dignity of his own, the dignity
of being a brother of Jesus Christ, I am now compelled to ask
myself another question: What will serve his eternal salvation?
NO RETALIATION! 71
What can / do, what must I do, in order that Jesus may not
have died for him in vain> And once I am compelled to stand
firm and face that question, then the following consideration
will be borne in upon me: If I merely react to him legakstically,
if I merely do to him what he has done to me (and nobody
could blame me for this!), then I merely harden him, then he
will only be driven deeper into his resentment, his bitterness,
his cynicism, his slovenliness. And that means that I would be
doing wrong to him. I would become the guilty one. When
Jesus Christ asks me about him at the Last Judgment, I may per-
haps wish to say, "But I acted correctly; everybody told me that
I was justified in doing what I did; I did nothing that he did not
do to me first." But I shall never get the words past my lips, for
suddenly I shall see the nailprints in the hands of the Crucified.
Just because I am no longer merely a "natural man," but
rather a man standing beneath the eyes of Jesus, I am suddenly
reminded that Jesus too did not confine himself to what is cor-
rect in his attitude toward me. If he had done so, if he had
dealt with me according to the rule of "an eye for an eye and
a tooth for a tooth," I would surely be headed for hell. No, I
am reminded on the contrary that he called me his brother
and shed his blood, even though I was his enemy. But when
I remember that, then there is nothing left for me to do but
take the lowest way and have pity, just as a mother pities her
wayward child. Then I do this, not from weakness or cowardice,
but letting the other person feel that I am saying something like
this: "What I care about is you. Look, my friend, I don't want
you to go on running the wrong way. I don't want you to be
struggling with all kinds of complexes and embitterments. I am
responsible for you before God, and that's why, and that's the
only reason why, I do not strike back, even though I have the
right to do so. That's why, and that's the only reason why, I
offer you the other cheek.'"
We understand, then, what this strange saying of Jesus means.
72 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
To "turn the other cheek" means this: "Look, by taking the
lowest way, I am for a moment making myself completely
defenseless as far as you are concerned. I am exposing my flank
to you, standing here without protection and without weapons,
exposed to your possible jeers and your saying that I did not
dare to hit back, that I flunked, whereas in fact I was acting
in the royal courtesy of love and offering you a chance to find
yourself and peace again."
And right here I should like to put this question to every-
body who has understood what we have said so far: Will not
this attitude, will not this royal courtesy of love mysteriously
alter my actions also in those cases in which I must not give in,
but rather stand on my rights and resist the other person, as
may be the case where the cause itself or educational reasons
demand it> For parents with respect to their disobedient chil-
dren and superiors with respect to uncorrect subordinates will
by no means always be doing a service to them by taking the
lowest way of submission. But even here, as everywhere else in
life, it is the tone that makes the music, and it makes a great dif-
ference whether a father chastens his son in anger, which means
punishing him out of egotism and for the purpose of working
off his own anger and getting a certain satisfaction from it, or
whether he takes upon himself this painful procedure (and
above all, painful to himself) in the knowledge that in this case
severity and uncompromising resistance can only serve the other
person and are indispensable to his inner welfare and progress.
In these cases too, where resistance and severity are called for,
a different tone will prevail when a disciple of Jesus acts, the
tone that says: "Listen, my concern is for you, not that I am
only insisting upon my rights. It is your soul that will be injured,
my son, my friend, my employee, if I let you get away with this.
That's why I am resisting you to your face."
A disciple of Jesus who lives under the eye of his Master
always acts completely differently from all other men, no matter
NO RETALIATION! 73
whether he breaks through the legal conventions in compas-
sion and offers the other cheek or whether he stands on his
rights for the other person's sake (and not as a fanatic insisting
on the letter of the law or an egotist acting within legal limits).
Jesus is not offering us here some new legal prescriptions for
our conduct there could be no worse misunderstanding than
this. He is rather setting before us the ultimate goal of our
action toward others, namely, the reconciliation of the other
person, who has been dearly purchased, for whom he poured
out his blood.
Our Lord shows us this other person as he stands beneath
the Cross. And seeing him there, the disciple knows, quite
simply knows, that ultimately what counts is not the assertion
of his personal rights, but rather that he help this other person, in
order that this cross may not have been raised above his life
May it not be that, confronted with this compassion and
this new tone, the other person too will be shaken into a new
awareness and that he too will be disarmed, that the letter I
have put into his hand instead of insisting on my rights will
become a first sign that there is a message, a law in this world
that is totally different from what he ever thought possible be-
forenamely, the message of God's mercy that has brought
me home and is now coming to him too as he stands beneath
the cross of Jesus? In the Gospel of Luke we are told that after
Jesus' last dying cry the people beat their breasts in a gesture
of remorse. Do you think that would have been possible if
beforehand Jesus had not prayed for his enemies? This prayer
and his love poured down from the Cross had left them dis-
armed and defenseless and brought them to a new way. Had
Jesus accused them from the Cross or threatened them with
the Last Judgment (and how right he would have been to do
so!), they would only have been hardened, merely fortified
in their passionate conviction that they were in the right.
74 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
May it not be? Well, it certainly may, and perhaps some of
us have had some very concrete experience of it, seeing a neigh-
bor, a colleague, a subordinate, whom we have shown this land
of defenseless compassion, turn around and take a look at him-
self, asking himself, "What makes him think and act this way?
Did he at some time have the same royal compassion shown
to him which he is now showing to me? Did he discover that
all the hateful, mean, poisonous things that assail him were also
within his own self? Did he realize his own pitiful lostness,
and is this what it is that causes him to deal with me in this
complete lack of pride and to put himself so completely on the
same level with me?"
So we help by putting ourselves under the mercy of God and
then letting it radiate to others in order that this unhappy world
may be disinfected. What can it not mean for a family, a class
in school, a neighborhood, a marriage, if there is one single
person in it who practices mercy because he himself has obtained
But now we must ask one last question and perhaps the hard-
est one: How can I get to the place where I become like that?
After all, we don't want to fall victim to pious words that are
too beautiful to be true. We have no wish to become addicts
of an unrealistic romanticism. The loveliest truths become lies
if they cannot be practiced, if one is not "in" and "of" this
truth (John 18:37).
So, how can I bring myself to love my enemy?
Well, we begin by asking another question first: How did
Jesus come to love his enemies? What actually happened when
Jesus practiced that deepest of all love that made it possible for
him to pray for his enemies even on the Cross? What he said
was: "for they know not what they do." And surely he could
say this only if he saw in them something completely different
from a sadistic, excited mob of people, a wild crowd of human
NO RETALIATION! 75
beasts. He could say this only if he saw in all who stood slaver-
ing and shouting around his cross lost and strayed children
His gaze penetrated the outer dirty surface and saw beneath
it something entirely different, something these people were
really meant to be, that God really intended them to be, the
plan he had for them. Every person is ultimately a thought of
God; true, a dreadfully distorted and almost unrecognizable one,
but nevertheless a thought of God. And when the church of
Jesus Christ sends its pastors into the cells of even the worst
criminals and malefactors and in the night before their execution,
in the moment before the law demands its retribution, invites
them to the royal table of the Lord, then there occurs the same
event that took place in Jesus' prayer for his tormentors and
persecutors. Then the church of Jesus bears witness that it
still sees in the criminal this thought of God, declares that he
is a child of God, recognizes a sonship which he has lost, but
therefore once possessed, and now offers it to him again in the
name of the sufferings and death of his Savior.
Ralf Luther once expressed it this way: "To love one's enemy
does not mean to love the mire in which the pearl lies, but to
love the pearl that lies in the mire." So love for one's enemy
is not based on an act of will, a kind of "self-control" by which
I try to suppress all feelings of hatred (this would lead only
to complexes and false and forced actions), but rather upon a
gift, a gift of grace that gives me new eyes, so that with these
new eyes I can see something divine in others.
But, you say, isn't this, too, just a beautiful theory? Can
this new way of seeing the other person become reality, say in
the midst of war or in the hostility of a broken marriage?
Well, I heard once of a woman she was a Christian whose
husband was really a beastly monster. From any human point
of view she could only despise him in his animal sensuality and
his sodden, brutal drunkenness. But then, she said, whenever
76 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
some hateful incident occurred, perhaps when he was facing
her with glassy, drunken eyes, perhaps lifting his hand to strike
her, and all the revulsion and anger of a violated, betrayed
human being leaped up like a flame within her, then suddenly
she remembered some nice thing he had said to her in the days
of their engagement. And, suddenly, she realized that in this
one good word, forgotten, oh, so long ago, the real man in her
husband was speaking. That one good word was a hint, a
glimpse of what God really intended him to be. There, in that
word, lay something of the gleam of a pearl now covered
And from that moment on she could never see in his eyes
anything but a deep and hungry cry for liberation and could
never look at him without seeing his depraved soul enclosed
in a horrible prison, from which he could not escape and in
which he suffered a nameless suffering. Suddenly she realized:
this monster of a husband is not merely a beast; he is a horribly
lost and pitiful child who needs pity and compassion.
Don't you see 5 This one word remembered from days of
love opened it all up and now all of a sudden she saw her hus-
band in an altogether different light. She had caught a glimpse
of what Christ saw as he looked down from the Cross.
When this gift of new eyes is given, as it was to this woman,
then a miracle happens. When the people who were looked
upon with the eyes of Jesus, who realized that those eyes recog-
nized in them their lost and buried sonship, they were suddenly
changed and then were able to recover. The eyes of Jesus and
the eyes of a disciple not only see the pearl but also "release"
it, help to bring out the sonship of God in the other person.
And every one of us can have the same experience, if we
would. What an indescribable liberation it is for a fallen, hate-
filled, embittered, evil person to meet a person whose eyes do
not stop at his sordid exterior, and thus merely force him to
make his armor of mire and spite thicker and more impenetrable
2Sro RETALIATION! 77
and cover himself with another isolating layer of defiance and
stubbornness! What a liberation for him to meet someone who
sees through that armor into those dimensions where the pub-
licans and the harlots are still children, beloved and mourned
Believe me, every one of those unhappy, bitter, and wicked
people you know are all waiting for this look from the eyes of a
disciple, which will better them and heal them just as you
yourself are waiting for it too. They are all yearning for the
new eyes, which only Jesus can create.
A few years ago I had the experience of meeting the "prodigal
son" of a family I visited. He had brought shame and sorrow
upon his mother and broken her heart. I was utterly amazed
to come in and find him sitting at the piano playing the chorale,
"Out of the depths I cry to thee," and playing it with obvious
sincerity. And as I was wondering how this could ever happen,
I overheard his sister hiss contemptuously, "The rotten hypo-
crite." I cannot remember now whether she actually said it
aloud, but at any rate it was written all over her face. What
she was doing was reacting hostilely to this enerny in the family,
and, humanly speaking, nobody could say she was wrong. For
he really did appear to be a hypocrite, putting on an act.
But in a moment like that must not the eyes of a disciple see
something else and something different? Was this young man
at the piano really dissembling when he played "sacred music,"
pouring out in music the cry of a lost child for release and
redemption, while he was still in reality a hard-boiled sinner?
Or was not perhaps just the opposite true, that in reality he was
the child yearning and hungering for redemption, that in reality
his fallen state was merely a mask, a dissembling, a distortion
of his true being?
Anybody who enters into fellowship with Jesus must undergo
a transvaluation of values. The new eyes simply make him see
78 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
everything differently, but not only that, for these eyes of his
also acquire a transforming power. As disciples of Jesus, we
can, we are permitted, to accomplish the same miracles that
Jesus' own eyes accomplished when he looked upon his fellow
men who had gone clean off the track, the thieves, the harlots,
and the sinners, and saw them as the children of God, and by
seeing them so, changed and transformed them.
We should thank God that as the church of Jesus Christ we
are permitted to be a company of people who know a better
way to treat men than simply to slap down the enviers and
haters and opponents, a better way than merely keeping our
distance from base, unlovely, unlovable people and associating
only with those we like and from whom we get something in
return. In this world of hatred and jealousy, of denouncers
and scoundrels, of profit-seeking and cold self-interest we need
to keep looking for this lost sonship. In this world we Chris-
tians have had our eyes opened to see that all who make life hard
for us and all who give us a sour reaction are dearly bought
and paid for by Jesus Christ. Now our new eyes see Jesus
Christ standing among them, eating with them, undergoing the
same baptism, and even in the last painful hour of his life refusing
to reject them but keeping them close to the tree of the Cross
by his prayer and his love.
This Jesus, who stands over there among our enviers and
haters, is asking that we take our stand with him and discover
the terribly ravaged sonship within our brothers and sisters
and with love woo it from its grave.
Don't you see? This is the gospel with all its difficult and
strange talk of loving one's enemies. That's what it is. This
world which is choking and dying of hate and revenge is
waiting for the new and renewing eyes of disciples. It is wait-
ing for the eyes that see man's sonship to God and therefore
also see the bridge that leads to the neighbor's heart and even
to the enemy's heart.
NO RETALIATION! 79
That neighbor of yours who gets on your nerves he is wait-
ing for that look. That fellow worker with whom you are at
odds, that son of yours who is breaking your heart and whom
you hardly know what to do with, that husband who has
changed so sadly and disappointed you so bitterly, and all the
others who bring tension and discord into your life. All of
them are waiting for you to discover in them what Jesus saw
in them and what gave him the strength to die for them. All
of them, friends and enemies, the good and the bad, are be-
loved, straying, erring children of the Father in heaven who is
seeking them in pain and agony.
Who else will ever see this child of God in them and lovingly
draw it out of them if not you you who are yourself standing
beneath the eyes of Jesus and being seen as such a child?
"As *we have received mercy, we do not lose heart" (II Cor.
To lose heart, to grow weary and impatient is the worst.
We all too easily lose heart in this life of ours where that
sonship to God is masked in so many different ways that we
hardly see it at all. But sonship is something that needs to be
believed, because the Father of his children must also be
But he to whom God's grace is new every morning will always
be fresh, and his love in turn will refresh both friend and foe.
Does Faith Pay Dividends?
**Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen
by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who
is in heaven.
"Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the
hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may
be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward.
But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your
right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret, and your
Father who sees in secret will reward you." Matthew 6:1-4
During the last week I received a number of letters from
people who are standing, as it were, outside the door of the
church. Their religious opinions were widely divergent, but,
quite remarkably, there was one phrase that recurred almost
word for word in their letters: "I accept the Christian ethic
fully and completely."
"The Christian ethic" this obviously meant something like
this: "I share with the so-called Christians a certain way of
thinking, a certain way of acting, a certain attitude toward my
fellow men. I too am for loving one's neighbor, for respon-
sibility to the Highest, and I too acknowledge that I am bound
to the ethical standards expressed in the Ten Commandments.
It may be that I do this for reasons somewhat different from
those you Christians put forth. I want nothing to do, for ex-
DOES FAITH PAY DIVIDENDS? 81
ample, with any idea of reward in heaven, upon which you
church people set such great store. Nor do I want my con-
tributions of time and money to be called 'alms/ as they are
spoken of in your holy books. But in practice it all amounts
to the same thing. 'I accept the Christian ethic fully and
Now isn't it a very strange thing that in the Sermon on the
Mount and especially in the very passage of the Sermon on the
Mount which we have just read there is really very little or
nothing at all said about this Christian ethic and that it deals
with a totally different theme?
Obviously there must be something behind this, and it is no
mere chance that right here Jesus does not set up any rules
for ethical conduct, that he does not, for example, say: You
should prove your love for your neighbor by deeds, by making
sacrifices for him and being willing to make any contribution
to him. Instead he says, "Beware of practicing your piety
This cry "Beware," "Look out" reminds me of the warning
calls I used to hear when we had to walk the dark, unlighted
streets at night, when suddenly a trench or a stone or tangle
of roots lay at my feet and I might have stumbled and fallen.
The warning cry doubtless has the same meaning here. I can
trip on a good deed, I can stumble over my Christian ethics
and break my "spiritual" neck.
There are two things that are characteristic in this warning
of Jesus. First, it is simply assumed as a matter of course that
good works will be done and that they need not be made the
subject of an express command. Jesus is here addressing him-
self to people who wish to live under the eye of God, who
have had some experience of his mercy and therefore know
that this mercy must flow through them to their neighbor,
and hence that it cannot be hoarded within them like a dead
pool with no outlet. The question whether one should or
82 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
should not give alms is no problem at all to such people. Luther
once said that there is no need to command a stone lying in
the sun to become warm; it becomes so of itself. That's why
Jesus here gives us no so-called moral commandment.
The second characteristic lies in the fact that, though Jesus
tells us that there is no question about 'whether you should do
good works, it is the good works themselves which are a prob-
lem. They are literally loaded with dangerous potentialities.
They are strewn with roots and stones and it is surely a real
miracle of God if you do not trip over them and fall miserably.
That's why Jesus utters this warning cry: "Beware, beware!
You are still not out of the woods when you have finally suc-
ceeded in wringing from your heart a contribution to some
good cause or given a room to a homeless refugee or given
your valuable time to someone who needs you. No, then the
real danger is just beginning! I am afraid that you may drain
out all the value of your so-called good works by being all
too ready to blow the trumpet whenever you put your hand
in your pocketbook and with a loud tantara call attention to it,
if not the attention of others, at least your own: So, here
comes Mr. So-and-So, what a noble fellow he is! You can
even shed tears over your own goodness and kindness it's
true, isn't it* I am afraid your so-called good works may be
depreciated by your looking too greedily for the reward you
may get for them. Are not all of you secretly living in the
thought pattern of reward and punishment? Are you not un-
tiringly at work, say when hard reverses come, reckoning up
to God what he ought to do and how he ought to reward you,
since, after all, you have done this and that for him? Is there
not in all your good works a secret but very dubious specula-
tion?" And as a matter of fact, do not all of us reckon a little,
or perhaps a great deal, upon recognition by God and by men,
upon prestige, honor, and a good reputation? Do we not all
strut a bit upon a lighted stage and assume poses, because the
DOES FAITH PAY DIVIDENDS 55 83
good Lord and our neighbors and colleagues are sitting in the
orchestra and we would like to have some applause and lots of
flowers and handshakes?
When Bishop Galen writes in his "Testament" the moving
statement that perhaps many people may admire his courage
in standing up for his faith and his rectitude, but that only God
knows the depth of his wretchedness, he was doubtless referring
to this secret of the human heart.
Jesus hears the trumpets of our moral ostentation. He sees
us flattering ourselves and marks the higgling and haggling of
our hearts, and it makes him sad, for he sees his people coming
to grief despite all their Christian ethics, no longer able 'to
hear the warning cry of the Good Shepherd above the bugle
sounds of their own self-satisfaction. That's why he cries out,
"Beware, beware 1 Once you have begun to fulfill the com-
mandments of God then the real problems begin, then comes
the real danger."
How can we heed this warning cry of Jesus Christ^ In this
hour we are not going to rely upon our good conscience, our
good will, and our ethical principles, however respectable they
may be. We are going to try to hear the Shepherd's voice m
the depths of our Christian life.
I was once taken care of by a nurse who did her work per-
fectly, punctually, and self-sacrificingly. For twenty years she
worked only on the night shift. " I asked her once whether this
was not a great strain that would eventually wear her out and
wondered how she found the strength to do it. With a radiant
look in her eyes she replied, "Well, you see, every night I put
in sets another jewel in my heavenly crown, and already I
have 7,175 in a row."
Why was it that my gratitude suddenly vanished, that I
could no longer believe in her love, and that all at once the
feeling of security disappeared^ 1 When she set out to help me,
84 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
I felt, she was looking straight through me as if I were just
so much air; her eyes were secretly fixed upon her crown in
heaven, savoring its sparkling glory.
Isn't it a terrible thing that a person can despise and offend
his neighbor at the same time he is doing something good and
working for the favor of the Father? For this is obviously
what this nurse was doing: the sick people she was caring for
were means to gain her end. She did not look at them with
the eyes of Jesus, who was moved to compassion by their misery,
who never ceased to be troubled by the fact that the children
of his Father in heaven were exposed to the destroying powers
of sickness, suffering, and death, and who laid down his life
to bring them into his Father's kingdom where there is no
suffering and no death. No, this nurse was just "using" her
patients as means and materials. She was entranced by the
thought that by doing this valuable and excellent work for
naturally there can be no doubt that she was and is an excellent
nurse she was producing more and more proof of her qualifica-
tions and that her balance in the bank of heaven was constantly
We understand, then, why these people were called "hypo-
crites" by Jesus. Of course he meant this in a sense much
deeper than our ordinary use of the term indicates. Generally
we think of a hypocrite as someone who consciously acts in a
dishonest way, who leads his fellows about by the nose. He
may even be a swindler who takes a certain pleasure in wearing
a pious cloak in order to gain credit with his honest fellow
citizens and then cheat the daylights out of them. We always
picture the hypocrite as the wolf who has put on his sheep's
clothing and then gets tremendous amusement watching his
bleating fellow creatures being taken in.
But that nurse and we too would strenuously object to being
named in the same breath with such hypocrites and wolves in
DOES FAITH PAY DIVIDENDS? 85
sheep's clothing. After all, we mean well. Our intentions are
honest and we want to help. And I mean that seriously, with-
But Jesus means something deeper when he uses the term
hypocrite. He means that we ourselves can, without knowing
it, fall into a disastrous contradiction with ourselves, that we
can in all seriousness imagine that we are doing God a service
when we help a person who may be disagreeable, tiresome, or
utterly useless to us, while in reality we are only doing a service
to ourselves, perhaps because we want to put this person under
obligation to us or because we enjoy being generous for once
and get a voluptuous pleasure in another's dependence upon us.
Isn't it true that it makes us feel good to have in our hands
another person's weal or woe? Nietzsche, as he so often does,
reveals our most secret motives when he says: I would like to
be the master of all men, but most of all God.
This hidden contradiction in our conduct this is the real
hypocrisy, the schizophrenia, the "split personality" of the
natural man, who carries water on both shoulders and keeps
looking both ways.
Often we do not realize this ourselves, and when we are
addressed as hypocrites at the Last Judgment we shall reply in
surprise, "What was that again?" and turn around, thinking it
was surely the man behind us on whom the eye of God was
One day it will be the delight of the satanic accuser to lay
all this hypocrisy at our door, mine as well as yours. And the
way he does it is classically described in the Book of Job. Job
was a downright decent and honest man. He prayed and he
worked. Not a single feature in his life is recorded which
would give us the least justification for questioning his personal
purity of character and good reputation. He really had a pure
conscience, this good Job. And yet the secret prosecutor, the
satanic accuser dared to contest the justification of this good
86 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
conscience. He says to the Lord of heaven: "Sure, this Job is
really a good man, I must admit it. But he is good only on one
presupposition, namely, that because there is a higher moral
world-order the good are rewarded and the wicked are pun-
ished, that real visible justice is at work in the world which
one can take advantage of by being honest and good and serving
God. But take away this assumption, take away as it were this
view of life in which he operates, and you will see him lose his
faith and instead of pious hymns only curses will issue from
And then, when the devil was given permission to torment
Job undeservedly, despite his outstanding goodness, in the
face of all kinds of troubles, he actually succeeded. Job began
to doubt God and his own piety. As soon as he found him-
self staring at grinning meamnglessness, as soon as his phi-
losophy of a just order of life vanished like a bubble, his faith,
too, collapsed. The dreadful thing about this story of Job is
that the devil's corrosive skepticism turns out to be right. Job
really did not lead a blameless life only for the greater glory
of God, he was pious and good because he thought that "God
does not allow the wicked to enslave the good," and therefore
that if a man is good he will have more freedom and happiness
There it is again, you see, this hidden hypocrisy, that hypoc-
risy that shows us that there is no relying on Job, no relying
on our conscience. For our conscience insofar as we take it
even half way seriously tends to defend and relieve us, con-
stantly reassuring us that we have done right and that God's
blessing cannot fail to come to us. When it comes to the
ultimate things the conscience fails. It is by no means the voice
of God. I should like to know who invented this pious legend.
A conscience which is not bound to God's Word is a dangerous
will-o'-the-wisp and an inexhaustible mine of self -righteousness.
It is an all too flattering and optimistic lawyer for the self.
DOES FAITH PAY DIVIDENDS? 87
And therefore one thing is sure: in the struggle between the
accusations of the devil and the defense of the conscience the
devil always wins simply because his eye is sharper than our
conscience and he is not our friend. Our enemies always see
our weaknesses more clearly than our friends. That's why we
ought to stop at this point and listen to what the devil says,
asking ourselves what charges he may have to prefer against us
as our accuser at the Last Judgment. And the fact is that the
satanic accuser does have a few truths to tell us which are not
only bitter, but also simply true.
Only when we have tasted this bitterness (and it's a sure
thing that every one of us will have to taste it, for none can
come to the throne of God without passing the accuser's chair)
will we see what the apostle Paul saw and realized when he
flung these words into the accuser's face: "Who shall bring any
charge against God's elect 5 It is God who justifies; who is to
condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised
from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed
intercedes for us" (Rom. 8:33-34). Do you understand what is
happening in these words?
Paul is not appealing to his good conscience as the accuser
whispers to the throne of God, "Here comes another hypocrite,
here comes the archhypocrite Paul!" No, what he is saying is
this: "It may well be that this hypocrisy is in me too; God
alone knows my secret faults and hidden motives. But I am
no longer the hypocrite Paul. I am Jesus' yokefellow, and for
this my Savior has taken upon his shoulders all my vices and
my shortcomings. He died for this, and, behold, I come in the
name of his 'blood and righteousness,' which is my 'beauty,
my glorious dress.' Let no man trouble me; for I bear on my
body the marks of the Lord Jesus. So, my accuser, what do you
think you can do? Everything you lay to my charge no longer
affects me, even though it be true. For I myself am no longer
the one you mean. You would be right if I came in my own
88 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
name, but I do not come in my own name, but in the name of
him who loved me and give himself for me. If you ever suc-
ceed in arguing away the Cross of Calvary, I'll be yours lock,
stock and barrel. But that's just what you will never be able
to do. The Crucified is stronger than you, and his blood
cleanses me from all sin. And that's why you have to let me
get past to the Father." So speaks Paul as he turns to the accuser.
But now look as the accuser is stricken to silence (when
Paul speaks so and I may borrow his words) the Father is
already stretching out his hands to me. For he who sits at his
right hand in the glory of power and majesty has confirmed
everything I have said: "All those whom thou hast given to me,
Father, I have protected and behold, dear Father, this man too
is one of these my brethren." These are the words that sound
from the right hand of God's throne.
What a comfort it is that here and now we should be hearing
about that dark chapter in our life, our secret hypocrisy, from
the same lips that will one day speak these comforting, succoring
words at the Last Judgment! For here in the Sermon on the
Mount Jesus Christ is saying exactly what the devil is saying to us.
For Jesus is the only one who knows us as well and even
better than the devil, in any case, better than we know our-
selves. "He knew what was in man" (John 2:25). But how
different it is when he says it and at the same time lays a kind
and healing hand upon this wound in our hearts. How different
it sounds when it is he who says "Beware" to us. In it is the
concern and pain of one who is anxious for his own. And
because we sense this concern, we are willing to let him tell
the truth to us. The inner opposition to the truth that wells
up when the devil says it breaks down within us. What a won-
derful thing it is to find all our opposition breaking down in
the presence of Jesus, because we know he will not let us lie
in shattered defeat, but will lift us up. And the worse we are
the more he loves us.
DOES FAITH PAY DIVIDENDS? 89
But then even so, a grave doubt comes to our minds. Did
not Jesus himself help at least a little to bring into being this
hypocrisy in our hearts, this terrible conflict with ourselves*
Does not he himself speak here and in other places of the
reward which we shall receive? And by speaking of this idea of
reward, does he not contribute fatally to our tendency to turn
away from our neighbor and his need and to keep looking out
for our heavenly bank account? Ought one not to do the good
"for its own sake"? And here we find Jesus Christ hi?nself
talking about reward. How then can we blame that nurse for
not caring for the sick simply out of compassion and rather
using them as means to an end? Immanuel Kant, the great
ethical thinker, once said that the greatest immorality was for
me to use another person as a means to an end. Prostitution
is immoral because here a living person created by God is used
as a means to the end of satisfying lust. A social order is immoral
when it makes possible the accumulation of power and wealth
at the expense of others who are nothing more than slaves, and
instead of being respected as living persons are regarded only as
things, as means of production. And the most refined and subtle
form of immorality appears when I help another person merely
because I am selfishly seeking my own personal salvation,
seeking to build up my own account in heaven. So this is a
very real difficulty, is it not, to see Jesus at least failing to
prevent our slipping into this immorality by way of his idea
What, then, does Jesus mean when he says that our helpful
concern for our neighbor has value and that it is "rewarding"?*
He gives us a very clear answer in his description of the
Last Judgment (Matt. 25:31). At this Last Judgment he will
remind us that he was constantly walking this earth as the
* Here we return to a thought in our first chapter and carry it further.
What we are confronted with here is a very important and constantly
recurring objection that is made by ethical idealism
90 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
hidden Christ, meeting us again and again in the hungry, the
homeless, the lonely, the imprisoned and destitute. "As you did
it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."
I venture to ask this question: Is there any way of showing
a person more respect than to see in him the hidden Savior, the
brother of the Lord? Can I ever put myself above the poorest
and most despised of men, can I ever pride myself above an-
other who needs my help and feel that I can be a patronizing
possessor as long as the Savior takes these old and weak and
"useless" ones under his protection, indeed, literally identifies
himself with them? Is there any dignity higher than the dignity
given to man by the Savior 5 It is like the dignity of a poor,
yellowed photograph I may find among my mother's mementos.
It too has no material value whatsoever and no artistic sig-
nificance. But the fact that my mother's eyes rested upon this
trifling picture, the fact that it stood perhaps on her sewing
table makes it infinitely valuable to me. And so men too acquire
their value from the fact that the eyes of the Lord rest upon
them and Jesus thinks of them with love.
It's true, isn't it, we must have radically misunderstood what
Jesus means here by "reward" if we could think that our neigh-
bor could ever become a means to an end and be used merely to
increase our bank account in heaven. We must have missed the
meaning of reward altogether if we could suppose even for a
moment that the nurse we spoke about could count upon it.
When Christ speaks of reward he uses the word quite simply
in order to express the quality of an act and make us ask whether
and why our act is "worthwhile," whether it "pays," whether it
is "rewarding." And in this sense no man who is serious about
what he does can avoid the question of reward. For even the
person who does something for its own sake still cherishes the
opinion that it "pays," that it is "rewarding" simply because
the thing itself is so important and rewarding. Even the idealist,
who quite simply says it is the destiny of man to act morally
tX)ES FAITH PAY DIVIDENDS^ 91
without looking for reward and profit (that, for example, as a
soldier he should be brave, as a nurse he should watch over the
sick, that when his neighbor's house is on fire he should help,
and give his second coat when his neighbor has none at all),
even the idealist regards himself as being rewarded for his act.
In this case the reward lies in the very fact that when he thus
sacrifices himself and his means he is being true to this destiny,
this deepest meaning and purpose of his life. Thus Walter Flex
once said that the real happiness of his life was that for him
thought and action were in harmony and that he was permitted
to hve out his conviction that to be really human demands sac-
rifice and devotion. So you see, this very harmony makes life
So here again we see what we have already seen in a similar
connection: the question of reward crops up in every view of
life; there is no thought and action in which it is not constantly
Therefore the problem must be posed in a different way.
We must ask: In what does the reward of helping our neighbor,
making sacrifices, and giving ourselves wholly to him consist?
The reward, the meaning of our love for our neighbor consists
in the fact that we do it for God's sake, that we do it simply
because he desires to meet us in the poorest of the poor: "What-
ever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men."
And because we do it for his sake, for the sake of his holy sac-
rifice, and hence because we do it for the sake of the great
price with which he purchased even the poorest and least worthy,
we grow ever more deeply into his fellowship as we love and
give sacrifice. So more and more do we become branches on
This fact alone that we are permitted to become members of
his body, companions of Jesus, whom he leads through the
world, through sin and need, and whom he will never forsake
in this life or the next, this and this alone is our "shield and
92 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
great reward" (Gen. 15:1). That's why our deeds are "reward-
ing," that's why they have meaning. This is my reward, and
not the paltry jewels my pious flesh would like to accumulate.
God does not reward us with things (and certainly not with
such a monstrosity as a big cumbrous crown) , he rather rewards
us with his heart.
In his Commentary on Romans, Luther subjected himself to a
mighty test whether there might be hidden egotistical motives
even in this idea of reward, and in doing so he set down some-
thing like the following thoughts (I have already referred to
them above): It may be that I want only to enjoy the felicity
of thy nearness, O God, and therefore that everything I do,
including my love for my neighbor and my worship of God,
indeed, even my faith and trust, is not done to thy glory at all,
but rather because I only want to enjoy the noble felicity of
thy fellowship, and therefore it may be that I am seeking, not
thee, but myself. Therefore I am ready to put myself to a test,
God: Do thou condemn me to the depths of hell, despite
my worship and my brotherly love, indeed, despite my faith
in the wounds of Jesus; and I will accept even this disappoint-
ment of my faith without murmuring and will praise thee even
in the depths of hell. Even there will I raise a sign that thou
canst deal with me as thou wilt. Even there will I prove that I
did not love thee for the sake of any reward. . . . But even as
1 ponder all this and contemplate this extreme trial of faith, I
know all the time that thou wilt not leave me in hell, but wilt
clasp to thy heart as thy child him who dares this utmost leap
* Gottfried Keller in his Green Henry realized in his own way the m-
escapability of the concept of reward "It has happened to me to repulse
a poor man on the street because, even while I wanted to give him some-
thing, I was thinking at the same time of God's approval, and did not want
to act in my own self-interest. Then, however, f felt sorry for the poor
man, I ran back, but while I was running back, my very compassion
seemed to me too much of an affectation." [Gottfried Keller, Green
Henry, trans. A, M. Holt (N.Y.: Grove Press, I960), pp. 25 f.]
DOES FAITH PAY DIVIDENDS? 93
Here it is made clear in an ultimate, unconditional, and as it
were extreme way what reward means in the New Testament.
It means that I can rely utterly upon the promise and the mercy
of God, knowing that God will never let me down and that
even in my most devout thoughts I need not seek to gain my
Even if I compelled myself to think, as it were by an intel-
lectual act of violence, that God would condemn me to the
depths of hell, regardless of all my faith, if I tried in this ex-
tremely violent way to get away from the idea of reward, then
even in this notional hell the mercy of God would be greater than
my heart, even there his royal reward would be awaiting me. And
if I cast aside all my calculations and speculations, even if I dis-
counted all the claims of which I am solemnly assured by God's
own Word and any appeal to my own faith, then even in this
ultimate nakedness and vulnerability I would still be surprised to
find God throwing his "glorious dress" about my nakedness, eager
to be my shield and great reward, and thus that I shall still be
his child and therefore will be rewarded beyond all that we
ask or think.
And now that we have thought this through together, I ask
you, can the word "alms" still have the "smack" which it now
has in our imagination? We tend to think of alms as a gift that
is given condescendingly. We think of them as crumbs which
we as lords let fall from our table. And an "almsman" or re-
ceiver of alms is likely to be thought of as something like a
little dog that greedily snaps them up and is dependent upon
But as soon as we put it in this way and admittedly it is a
caricature we find that these alms can become a sign of what
God does for us. For just as the needy person often appears to
our proud imagination to be somebody who has no claim at all
upon us and is dependent upon our grace and compassion, so
this is actually and without any imagination our situation before
94 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
God. In any case, he certainly does not find us "lovable,"
"worthy of his love" and yet he loves us nevertheless. We
have no bill to present, but nevertheless, he pays our debts.
We crucify the Savior and do so every day of our lives, for
we want to be our own masters; but he takes this cross, which
we ourselves raised up, and raises it above us, turning the very
sign of our opposition into a banner of peace.
Once we have discovered, then, that ever since the Fall every
one of us, you and I included, are all paupers and almsmen of
God, must not our own almsgiving suddenly appear in a totally
different light? The people to whom we give alms also sense
very clearly whether we are acting like little tin gods, gra-
ciously condescending to bestow a charitable gift or whether
we are giving as those who themselves have received abundantly
and now are passing it on to others in gratitude and humiliation.
Only he who himself has received mercy can really give and
help others without humiliating and dishonoring them. Hence
the real gift and I mean by this the upbuilding, helping gift,
the royal sign of mercy also does not flow from our proud
hands, carelessly dropping the alms. It flows from the quiet
chamber in which we give thanks to God for all the undeserved
good things in our life which he has given to us, all the way
from the great spiritual gift of being permitted to be his chil-
dren down to food and drink and shoes and clothing which
still are ours to enjoy.
So let us be givers and sacrificers and thus messengers of
this mercy of God. Let us be brothers to the least of these
brethren, in order that our Brother, Jesus Christ may meet us
in them. Then this will be our shield and great reward.
Beware, take care, give heed to your alms and your Christian
ethics! You can meet and find your Savior in your brother
man, or you can lose your place in the Father's house, despite
your piety and your rectitude. "You were bought with a price;
do not become slaves of men" (I Cor. 7:23).
Talking About Cod or With Cod?
"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they
love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners,
that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their
reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door
and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who
sees in secret will reward you.
"And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles
do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.
Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before
you ask him." Matthew 6:5-8
Not long ago I read again in the well-known autobiography
of Friedrich von Bodelschwingh the chapter in which he gives
his account of the death of his four children one after another
within two weeks, leaving the stricken parents in dreadful lone-
The thing in this account that affects one so deeply is not
so much the terrible event itself, though any father who had
little children of his own and saw them exposed hour by hour
to the deadly menace of the bombing raids would surely be
deeply moved by this account of the Grim Reaper's assault
upon these innocent, hardly opened blooms of childhood.
Far more moving in this account is the way in which Bodel-
schwingh writes about the death of these four little children,
96 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
the way in which he tells how he committed each one of these
beloved children to the fatherly hands of God and also how
they too looked longingly to their Shepherd as "Jesus' little
In the last analysis what is it that is so moving in this story?
I think it is this: that even in the worst moments of this
truly ghastly trial of faith Father Bodelschwingh never lost
contact with God, that his childlike conversation with the
Father in heaven never ceased, and hence that never for a
moment did this conversation with God appear to yield to that
dumb, leaden silence which many of us know from the darkest
days of our life.
It can also be expressed negatively: it is true that Bodel-
schwingh said later that when this happened he learned for the
first time how heard God can be; but nevertheless he apparently
never asked "How can God allow such a thing to happen?"
or "Why should God do this to me?"
That is to say that anybody who asks that question is no
longer speaking voitb God, but only about God. What he is
doing is making him the topic of a discussion, turning him into
a matter of debate, the undertone and implication of which is
expressed in words like this: "Let's just look at this God a little
more closely. Is a person really expected to be able to believe
a thing like that?" And then, of course, what happens is what
happens in almost every debate: the subject is talked to pieces
and God melts away in one's hands, choked to death in a lot
of words at least so far as he is owr God.
Characteristically, this fearful moment of doubt and deicide
did not occur at this crisis in Bodelschwingh's life, for he did
not talk about God and he turned the very dread itself into a
prayer. And in this he was following the example of the cru-
cified Savior. For even when Jesus cried out in the agony of
death, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" this
has nothing to do with the modern doubt, which sounds so
TALKING ABOUT GOD OR WITH GOD? 97
similar to it, because it too asks the question "Why" and yet
asks it so differently. For in reality it only talks about God
and cries out about God, and in that very act cries him down,
so that he is no longer heard.
For even in this uttermost depth of trial the Crucified still
addressed his Father in prayer: "My God, my God . . . ," and
this cry of terrible torment is clothed in the words of the Old
Testament. He spoke to the Father as it were in the Father's
own words. So close to the Father's side is he even here even
in this extreme darkness when the face of the Father seemed
to have vanished utterly.
Why do I mention all this? Simply because it teaches us to
understand the opening words of our text. For it begins with
the words, "When, or whenever, you pray. ..." If I am catch-
ing the sense of this, Jesus is here alluding to the fact that our
praying is not a matter of course, but that we talk more about
God and would rather talk about God than with him. For what
is referred to here is not merely a fixed time of prayer in the
sense of "When the time of your hour of prayer comes, you
should do so and so." It is rather a conditional clause: if it
should come to the point (come to the point at dl) where you
pray (even if this "at all" is as it were guaranteed by set rules
and times of prayer), then you should do this or that.
Prayer is therefore not a self-evident, automatic thing. To
say that we pray "always" and are "always" in communication
with the Father is out of the question. With us prayer is more
or less an exceptional thing. It is an event that occurs from
time to time and, so to speak, requires definite conditions.
Why is this? Why is it that we have so much trouble with
our prayer life, instead of finding in it the real substance and
joy of our existence? Why is it that we have to force ourselves
to keep company with the Father? Why is it that we are always
so weary and indolent and that every silly newspaper, every
vexation, or even every joy that comes our way is able to kill
98 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
or crowd out our prayers, until finally we only talk about God
and after a time even stop doing that? For anybody who once
makes of God a mere topic usually turns after a time to more
current and immediate topics.
The reason for this lies in the fact that prayer is no longer
the native soil of our life, our home, whose air we desire to
breathe. The world is our home the world and all that fills
us to bursting, the worries about money and food; the letter
we receive or have to write; the dissensions with our colleagues;
the concern about getting ahead in our business or profession,
the cramped quarters we live in; the nervous tensions; the sleep
that overpowers us at evening or the sleep we miss, when
forced wakefulness drives us, not into reflection, but only into
nervousness, this world that consumes and hounds us, keeping
us vibrating no matter whether it is moving or stopping. This
world has become our home, except that it is incapable of
giving us the security of home.
So we have this dislocated feeling that the world of prayer
is a strange and alien place, that we therefore need some kind
of a push, a resolution, a positive force, in order to muster up
the desire to pray and to tear ourselves away from our home
in the world.
How different was Jesus' prayer! When he came to men
to preach and to heal he came out of the homeland of prayer.
What he said to men he had first talked over with the Father.
He came out of this prayerful contact with the Father, where
he was really at home, into the alien country of this world.
And look at the tremendous difference between Jesus and us:
with effort *we rouse ourselves out of the consuming concerns
of the world "Whenever you pray"; whereas Jesus lives in
prayer and, just the opposite from us, comes from prayer and
enters into the concerns of this world. Here we begin to see
what is lacking, how deeply estranged we are from the real
life. We are amazed to hear what Luther, following in his
TALKING ABOUT GOD OR WITH GOD> 99
Lord's footsteps, somehow managed to do. He prayed from
three to four hours every day, and he tells us that the great
fullness of his life's work came out of these hours of quiet,
whereas we would think just the opposite, namely, that these
hours would be lost from the day's work and that in any case
we today could never afford this loss of time.
Could it not be that the truth is quite different from what
we think with all our shrewd and modern way of looking at
things? In any case, this is my experience: the shorter and more
hurried our prayer time becomes, until finally it dwindles to
a few seconds of reading the daily text, the more it actually
becomes a burden, because these few seconds lack strength
and savor, which means that they have no quietness in them
and therefore no longer provide a sustaining foundation for the
day despite or just because of their brevity, which we think
is so rational. This is the irony that mocks our rationalization
of our prayer life and destroys it by the very means by which
we try to salvage a tiny portion of our life for it.
We sober realists ought to be sober and realistic enough to
know that this economy of time is deficit-spending economy;
and in this vicious circle we grow more and more disinclined
and averse to prayer.
When the devout man of the Old Testament offered an animal
for sacrifice which was not free of blemishes his sacrifice was
not accepted at all. The man who does not give to God the
best hours of the day, the hours when he is most fresh and alert,
but rather reads his mail or the newspaper first or indulges in
his own pursuits, good or bad, which he thinks are more press-
ing, will receive nothing at all from his heavenly Father; he
ought to keep his mouth shut altogether, because it will be shut
for him anyhow.
Down underneath we also know very well that God does not
have first place in our life neither the first place in time at the
beginning of the day nor the first place in the actual importance
100 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
he has for our life. That's why we think that certain conditions
have to be fulfilled in order that we may pray. Among these
conditions we include, for example, the stipulation that we must
first have time and quietness (though it is just the other way
around it is only in praying that we get this quietness!); and
also that we must be in the mood, for which again we need
leisure and quiet and above all the stimulus of some kind of
solemn ceremony (perhaps a Christmas or Easter service) or
some great moment in our life. But anybody who sets up con-
ditions for God is off the track from the start and again had
better keep his mouth shut. God gives himself only when we
put ourselves unconditionally in his hands.
And here our text gives us the decisive direction. All this
waiting for devout moods or moments when our hearts are so
full of care and fear that we can hardly do anything else but
pray, all this waiting for such moments is brushed aside by
Jesus' repeated command to pray.
I should think that this could be a real comfort to all of us
when our prayer life breaks down. As we find again and again
that we are not in the mood or that we have other thoughts in
our mind, and besides we know the old routine by heart we
have "no time," there comes to us the command "Pray? "Seek
ye my face" (Ps. 27:8). Now it is simply the Christian's service,
the obligation, so to speak, of his office as a Christian, that he
should pray an obligation which, in exactly the same sense as
our daily work, simply disregards the question whether we are
in the mood to go to work tomorrow: "A job is a job."
, And then, too, what a liberation this command can be when
we are in a state of doubt and dispute with God, tormented by
the thought that prayer may have no meaning at all, that as
Rilke once said in another connection the whole thing is like
calling on a telephone when nobody ever answers at the other
end, that it is therefore utterly senseless to attempt to intervene
by prayer in the natural, inevitable course of a disease like
TALKING ABOUT GOD OR WITH GOD? 101
cancer. Are not all of us staring, like a rabbit held spellbound
by a serpent's eyes, into the dreadful fate in store for us in the
atomic age, the massing clouds of great cosmic catastrophes
that threaten to discharge upon our heads? Have not all of us,
down in the secret corners of our hearts, become a bit fatalistic
and so tend to forego the feeble gesture of prayer, which, after
all, is only the whimpering of a child in a storm and does not
avert the storm anyhow?
What a comfort it is then simply to be lifted above these
doubts and hesitations by a command, just as a soldier knows
that he is in duty bound by a command, even when he does
not understand the command. Often we do not understand the
mystery of prayer theoretically, and discussions about it are
pretty futile. But we learn it in obedience and in the practice
of it, just as we learn to understand the Lord better the more
we follow him; and we misunderstand him more the more we
insist upon understanding beforehand "why" this discipleship
is justified and worth while.
So prayer is not a matter of our mood and inclination; it is
a matter of a command. But we must remember that he who
gives a command thereby assumes full responsibility for it.
And Jesus gave the command. So we can take him at his word,
and, as Luther said, we should "throw the whole sackful of his
promises at his feet." We do not come merely in our own name
good heavens, who are we, we who are drunk with hope,
plagued by fear, and undermined by doubt; how could we ever
rise above this sea of madness, how could we ever break through
this blockade in our life? I say, we come, not in our own name,
but in the name of the Lord Jesus. We come in his name, not
only because he has commanded us to pray, but because through
his death and resurrection he has made us again children of his
Father and therefore has given us the right to speak as children
and to trust in his suffering and death.
102 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
Then Jesus gives us still another indication of how little all
this depends upon us alone and our mood. He says, "When you
pray, go into your room and shut the door." This we visualize
perhaps as a simple but solemn room, possibly furnished with a
cross, a gold-edged Bible on a table, and a pne-dieu. But what
Jesus means is the storeroom outside of the house, a very un-
solemn and very unreligious and very prosaic place. This may
indicate how unnecessary it is for us to climb up upon a special
pedestal and reach a particular mood in order to find the Father.
We can come just as we aresimply because God came to us
first in the Christmas Child and because his coming too was very-
prosaic and unsolemn. There is only one respect in which the
quiet room will help us to pray, and that is that we can be alone
with God and that this aloneness will not be disturbed by pious
play acting or by things and people, impressions and thoughts
that press in on us from all sides. We should therefore in all
earnestness see to it that we keep the hour of prayer undisturbed.
There is nothing more wonderful than this hour of quiet. And
the devil operates far less with doubts and evil thoughts than
with the harassing maneuvers of petty trivialities. He works
through haste and restless thoughts, through crowded conditions
which make it almost impossible to find such a quiet place. And
I venture to say that modern, urban man's lack of time and the
overcrowded housing conditions provide the devil with more
welcome opportunities than all the Feuerbachs and Nietzsches
and anti-Christian propagandists put together. The quiet room
is one of the most important strategic points in the confusion
of our time; for he who has lost sight of God (and only here
will he find him) no longer knows how to cope with the world.
How can one structure a world when one has stopped up the"
springs of blessing and cut off communications with him who
has overcome the world?
Then Jesus mentions still another, last difficulty about prayer
TALKING ABOUT GOD OR WITH GOD? 103
that disturbs our contact with God. It appears in our heaping
up empty phrases like the pagans who think they will be heard
for their many words.
Actually, the two most dangerous causes of disease in our
prayer life are either that we use too few words because our
contingent of thoughts and resolves runs out, having already
been spent on people and things, or that we use too many words
because we do not trust anything to God.
So it is elsewhere in life too: when a person who wants to
obtain something from us uses a great plethora of words there
are usually two possible explanations for his doing so.
The first is that he has a bad conscience and also has a lot to
cover up with his many words. We have to watch out that he
does not covertly bring us around to something quite different
from what he so emphatically insists is his purpose.
So Jesus is quite right to distrust the pious talkers: may not
they too be wanting something quite different from what they
say? They declare that what they want is contact with the
Father, his blessing and giving hand. But in reality they are
not concerned about that hand at all, but as Walter Flex once
said, only about the pennies in that hand. In their trouble or
in their desires they want to gain something from him, they
want him as a means to an end, and when he has helped them
they run away, simply because the means has performed its
function and is dismissed with favor or disfavor. It is of these
people are we among them too? that Jesus was thinking with
deep sadness when he said after the miraculous feeding of the
five thousand (John 6: 26) : You seek me, not because you saw
signs (i.e., you seek me, not because I revealed myself to you
as your Savior in the miracle of the feeding and because you
were given a glimpse into my heart and my loving concern for
you), but because you ate your fill of the bread. No sooner
are your stomachs filled than you forget me, and if you say a
prayer of thanksgiving at all, your "Amen" sounds more like
104 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
"Boy, am I stuffed"! This is what you are trying to cover up
with your many words. O you fools, seeking the gifts and not
Was not Jesus talking about you and me when he said this^
How passionately we prayed as the bombs whistled down upon
our roofs and how feeble our thanks when the "All Clear" came 1
The reason for it was that we were concerned only about our
little bit of life and not about his kindly heart, watching over
us and stationing his angels like a guard around us.
It was probably because the person who prays is thus con-
cerned first of all to gain contact with the Father and to reach
out for his hand that the ancient prayers of the church were
accustomed to begin with a long, detailed address. There was
a time when I did not understand this and was even critical
of it, for I felt that one would be so exhausted by these long
addresses that one could hardly take in the real substance of
the prayer. But perhaps now we understand what the fathers
were trying to achieve through these "long-winded" addresses
and why this may also give us a pointer for our own praying.
The fathers were concerned not merely to express their needs
and hopes in prayer, but above all to establish contact with that
last court of appeal which they were approaching with these
needs and hopes. Otherwise we may be all too apt to dwell
upon the fears and hopes that fill our hearts and our prayer will
never get us free from ourselves, because the "addressee" has
never been found at all, indeed, has never even been approached.
Then there is a second explanation why a person may over-
whelm us with a plethora of words when he wishes to gain
something from us. His verbosity may be due to the fact that
he distrusts us. He steps on the accelerator, as it were, in order
to set us moving, because he thinks, rightly or wrongly, that
we are too inert to move of ourselves. Or he may use a lot
of words and graphic descriptions as tearjerkers in order to
move us, because he thinks we have a stony and pitiless heart.
TALKING ABOUT GOD OR WITH GOD? 105
Or he may be desperately trying to make us understand his
situation, because he assumes that we are uncomprehending and
And this is exactly what Jesus says of those who "heap up
empty phrases" in their prayers. They, too, step on the ac-
celerator because they think they have to get things moving
themselves, because they do not really believe that God has
been thinking about us before we even began to think. They,
too, work on the tear glands in their prayers, because they do
not believe in the Father's measureless mercy. What they are
practicing is work-righteousness in the form of prayer.
And therefore because we are among these people who dis-
trust God and cannot get away from our activism even in prayer
and thus cannot bring ourselves simply to let ourselves fall into
God's hands, Jesus is calling out to IK:
"Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. He
is already there, even before your need comes. He is already
there, ahead of the waves that threaten to engulf you. I, your
Savior, am already there, before your sins; you have only to
claim what lies ready for you to use. For the blessing and the
help and the salvation are there, ready at hand. Don't you see
that all your efforts, your chattering of empty phrases, your
crying is like battering down a door that is already open? Don't
you see what a terrible distrust this is of him who has opened
the door and is waiting for you, as did the father of the prodigal
son? What you are doing in these furious prayers is like writing
threatening letters to your Father, telling him he is obligated
to help you, when all the while this Father is thinking of you
day and night and waiting for the first sign that you are willing
to come home. When you know that someone loves you and
is near to you, it does not require many words, but only a quiet
sign, a gknce, a little suggestion, and he will understand. Should
it be any different with your Father? Your Father 'who knows
what you need before you ask him'?"
106 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
These are precisely the words that bring a great calm to our
prayers. We do not need to utter any long and well-phrased
speeches, God understands even a sigh or a groan. He also under-
stands the crude and halting words simply because he loves us
and knows us better than we know ourselves. And the groans
of a dying child of God, who can no longer speak and is already
beyond tie zone in which human words count, are more pre-
cious to him than all the calculating prayer-rhetoric of many
a devout person and many a shrewd and "religious" worldling.
But all this is true only on one condition, and that is that we
come in the name of him who taught us to pray in this way.
How else could we ever arrive at the acceptance of the fact
that a Father hears us, that he takes an interest in us, listens for
our sighs, and desires to make his dwelling place in our poor
chamber* The people who keep telling us Christians that it is
presumptuous of us to bother God with our trivialities, that
we are rating ourselves altogether too high when we do this
and making of God an all too human person, these critics are
actually right. If we did not recognize in Christ the fatherly
heart of God; if we did not see in him that divine downward
pull that keeps drawing God to broken and contrite hearts, to
the poor in spirit, to widows and orphans, the sick and the
destitute, in a word, to his lost and beloved children; if we did
not know the dark night of the Cross, in which the Son of God
allowed himself to be plunged to the abyss of hell, compared
with which the most cruel depths of human woe are but as
green valleys, then, yes, it would of course be better if we kept
quiet, because it is more courageous to stand up and bear adver-
sity than to console oneself with illusions and pious romanticism.
But this Savior has appeared, the door to the Father's house
is open, and now nothing can separate us from the love of God.
I said a moment ago that we are commanded to pray, but
having said that, this last thing must be added. Such a command
TALKING ABOUT GOD OR WITH GOD? 107
and task would be meaningless if the really clinching thing in
all this were not the gift, which means that we are given to
know that in Jesus Christ we have the joyful and indescribable
surprise of knowing that we have a Father who loves us, that
there is someone upon whom we can cast all our cares, that
there are watching over us eyes that see all the misery and the
longing, that there are ears listening to us that can interpret
the sighs and groans.
"Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord!" Yes, now I really
can do this, since all this is true. Blessed be he who can hear us
because he himself is beside us in whatever depths from which
we may cry and pray! His ear is inclined to our voice and his
heart is marvelously ready to hear, to understand, and to help
"more abundantly than all that we ask or think."
Don't you see: we are being called by name, and now we
need only to answer, now we need only to speak out and cry
out with all our strength, "Here I am!"
This answering to that call, which has already come to us
that's what prayer is.
And now let us trust with all our hearts that there is a Father
who has called to us, and then stride bravely into the dark,
never ceasing to call back to him, perhaps as Peter cried when
he threatened to sink into the sea that's what faith is.
"And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for
they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men.
Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you fast,
anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not
be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father
who sees in secret will reward you." Matthew 6:16-18
There was a great and pathetic amount of fasting in our
country in the years immediately following the war. Almost
every one of us has painfully learned to know what it is. Count-
less mothers know what it meant to hear the children cry for
bread when there was none to be had. The columns of our
newspapers contained pitiful accounts of people going hungry.
There was no talk about anointing one's head, but a lot about
tightening one's belt. There was no talk about religious dis-
cipline, but a lot about the breakdown of morals and the bkck
market. There was no talk about cheerful asceticism, but a lot
about the dreadful duress that had been laid upon physical
existence, in whose deadly embrace all nobler human impulses
gave way to tie naked and brutal struggle for existence.
Well now, shall I talk about the blessing of hunger and try
to find the good side of this situation of self-restraint and
abstinence, instead of all of us getting together and doing every-
thing we can to break the reign of hunger in the world? Shall
I gush and rave about starvation being a devout training for
heaven, instead of helping our hungry neighbors, right here
I do not believe that this religious glorification of hunger is
in accord with the mind of him who taught us to pray for our
daily bread, who fed the hungry and laid his hands upon the
sufferers in order that they might be set straight again. He
made food and clothing objects for which we are to pray and
give thanks, not a matter of abstinence and self-denial. And how
could we seriously give thanks and pray for something which
we do not at the same time seek to gain with all the strength
It is perfectly clear what the Lord, who is a Savior of souls
and bodies, is requiring of us now not to talk about the blessing
of hunger, but rather to help the hungry, because they are his
brethren: 7 am hungry, are you feeding Me? 7 am the one who
is gazing at you from the faces of these emaciated, mortally
weakened people, will you help Me?
But in reality our text has in it a quite different question.
Our text speaks of the earnestness of repentance, of a break
with the world, and the overcoming of that which enslaves us
and prevents us from doing so. And one of these is the stomach,
both a full and an empty stomach. All this Jesus drives home by
reference to the way in which repentance was practiced at that
time, especially the practice of fasting. But the fasting is not
the main thing, but only a means of illustration. The main thing
is repentance. What does this mean?
At bottom repentance means simply to turn around, to turn
around and go back home. And that again strikes the same note
that runs through the whole Sermon on the Mount. This theme
says that what is at stake in what Jesus wants of us is not that
he wants to "enrich" our lives by adding to it religion and the
life to come. So he is often understood and misunderstood.
People say, for example, that there is an economic, a cultural,
110 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
and a political area in our life, but that there is also a rehgious
realm, and woe to the statesman who does not take this area
into his calculations. Then, they say, he is overlooking an im-
portant factor in human leadership. He is not taking into account
certain spiritual energies which can only be tapped and mobilized
on the basis of religion. The man who is only a politician is
a bad politician; but he can learn something from Christ about
this important quality of the religious element, for nobody ever
expressed himself as clearly and impressively about this as did
Jesus Christ. Some people are even saying that even the atheistic
countries have rediscovered the so-called religious potential and
are beginning again to recognize it.
But how pitifully we should misunderstand our Lord if we
were to believe that he merely intended to add to the other
areas of life and our other needs a further sector, namely the
religious sphere with its special view of life and its religious
needs! Then discipleship would be an easy matter. Then all
you would have to do is to learn a few things in addition to
what you already know, such as what happens to us after death
(which we did not know before but which presumably we learn
from the Bible), what spiritual energies this so-called faith can
release, and finally, how we can overcome all our complexes and
inner tensions with the aid of the peace of mind that can be
obtained in this additional sector in our life.
But now I ask you: Do these disciples, do all these people
in the New Testament who came under the power of Jesus
Christ look even remotely as if they had merely been enriched
by that kind of experience, as if their mental horizon had merely
been enlarged to include the religious side of life? Is not what
they experienced in Jesus something far less innocuous than thatf
Are not all of them people who have been flung off their course
by a storm and struck down by lightning? Are they not people
for whom the door of their past life, indeed, the mighty door
of the world itself, has been slammed shut and who now see
that they have been set down in a totally new dimension in
which they live according to laws that are completely different
from what they were before? In a dimension in which they
must now consider as small and mere refuse what formerly was
the great thing that had first place in their life? In which they
must burn up what formerly they reverenced, and reverence
what formerly they cast into the fire (Acts 19:19)?
Are not all these people of the New Testament gazing at
this shut door in deep astonishment, struck almost numb and
dumb with amazement that the old has really passed away and
the new has come, that they have been born again, that their
former life, in which they loved and hated, ate and drank and
married, in which they were interested and indifferent, has
passed away like an unreal dream, whereas now for the first
time the hour of truth and fact and reality has dawned upon
them? Does not every Christian experience exactly the same
What they had and what we all experience in Jesus Christ is
no mere extension or addition to our life, but rather a new life
before which the old life fades away and is canceled out. This
is no mere problem of addition in which a new area, the reli-
gious area, is annexed to our previous life. No, it is an act of
tremendous demolition and reconstruction on land that has been
leveled to the ground in the midst of pain and terror, land that
is cluttered with the castles, citadels, and gardens of our old life.
But now, how does this decisive event, which we have just
described as a turning around, a revaluation, a slamming of a
door, a leveling, really come aboutf 4
Does this turning away from the old life come about through
a person's becoming fed up and disgusted with himself, realizing
his emptiness, and growing sick of it? After all, there are all
kinds of "philosophers of disgust." They are called pessimists,
and they say, openly or indirectly, that life is a desert and a
pigsty. But what they mean is another kind of disgust; it is a
112 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
loathing that never really frees a person from what disgusts
him, but only drives him deeper and literally compels him to
wallow in cynicism, in the nothingness of life, in the great
wound of the world's anxiety. From this kind of disgust comes
only resignation with no homecoming, a dreary nihilistic despair.
One need only to look at the prodigal son to sense the fresh,
the totally different air that blows in the New Testament. How
did it come about that he suddenly broke away from the desert
and the pigsty? Was it because it stank to high heaven? Was
it because he had had enough of the farmer who gave him only
husks to eat? Was it because he was sick and tired of his miser-
able standard of living? None of this would have driven him
to make a break; he would probably have hanged himself and
put an end to it in this way.
But that he sprang to his feet and began to run, began to run
home, to his father; that a feeling of strength swept through
him and he became active this was because suddenly the vision
of his father's house loomed up in his soul and he saw in spirit
the father waving and beckoning to him; and suddenly he knew
and was sure that the father would accept him if he went. Sure,
he was fed up with the far country, the trumpery, the sounding
brass and tinkling cymbals of the taverns, which once he had
taken so terribly seriously. But this was only incidental. The
main thing was simply the joy of realizing: I can go home
again! That's why repentance is repeatedly described as joy;
and it was a sign that a man was rejoicing when he anointed
Certainly the prodigal son would have looked with surprise
at the mayor of his home town if he had said to him, "What's
the matter, did they take your residence permit away from you,
that all of a sudden you come back home?" The homecomer
would certainly not have been at a loss for an answer: "What
do you mean; do you think I'm here now because I was for-
bidden to stay in the far country? No, sir, it wasn't that at all.
It was my father's offer, my father's acceptance that brought me
home." And if the mayor had said, "But the next time your
father will certainly forbid you to go into the far country,"
the prodigal son would have kughed at him and said, "No need
for prohibition any more; once a man knows what the peace
and protection of the father's house means" in other words,
once one knows what fellowship with God and peace in Jesus
Christ is "he simply doesn't leave of his own accord."
Well, is it really true that a person never leaves again? Does
a person really stay at home in the peace of the Father once he
has come home, once he has been "converted"? Does all the
rest of it proceed automatically, without any tensions or crises
whatsoever? If the prodigal son had replied to the mayor as we
have just said he would, would not this be incorrect? And this
question brings us right to the center of our text.
For this text assumes and obviously agrees that it takes certain
spiritual exercises and exertions, that it requires a spiritual dis-
cipline to come back home and to remain there. And part of
this discipline or training may be fasting.
So this matter of coming home and remaining there is not
so simple and automatic after all; and we can find evidence for
this in other places in the New Testament. Thus Paul says, "I
pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others
I myself should be disqualified" (I Cor. 9:27). So it is possible,
even after we have come home, to disqualify ourselves in a
very subtle way. We can still, as it were, keep one foot in the far
country. In another place Paul says: It is true that I am a free
man; since I am a child in the father's house there is no restrict-
ing law. I can eat and drink, I can laugh and be merry, I can
dance and sing, "but I will not be enslaved by anything" (I Cor.
6:12; 10:23). In the name of evangelical freedom bestowed
upon me in the Father's house it is therefore possible for me to
slip back into the far country inadvertently. And hence the
First Epistle of Peter admonishes us, "Keep sane and sober for
114 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
your prayers," which means, after all, that when your nerves
are fevered, when the passions are excited, when your appetites
clamor for satisfaction, this is the very time when you do not
pray, this is when contact with the Father is broken.
So all this would certainly not make it appear that once a
man is in the Father's house he is safe and all the tempting
voices of the far country are silenced once and for all. On
the contrary, it sounds more like a warning, an alert, a call to
struggle and watchfulness. And this is precisely what Jesus is
saying: the peace of God is not life insurance! It is not some-
thing to sit on, but something you keep reaching out for con-
stantly. And he who thinks that he stands that he is standing,
for example, inside the threshold of the Father's house where
nothing can happen to him again let him take heed lest he fall
and suddenly find himself outside again.
Now, perhaps some of you may say: Isn't this a terrible thing
you have just said? Are you saying that Jesus isn't strong enough
to banish this danger once and for all, once he has laid his hand
upon us? Is his blood, which he shed for me, too weak and in-
effectual to immunize me sufficiently? Is his Cross merely a
banknote without sound cover, instead of a sign of triumph,
a sign that all who embrace it are now inviolable and safe?
Well, it is a good thing to doubt and then to express our doubt
openly. For doubters are people who stretch out their hands
and therefore can be taken by this Hand.
That is to say that Jesus is so mighty that his very presence
brings all his enemies into concentrated attack, simply because
they realize that they are mortally threatened. Think of the
frenzy of the demonic spirits in the possessed when Jesus looks
upon them! Think of all the forces, even the mutually antago-
nistic forces like Herod and Pontius Pilate, that closed ranks
and joined together when it came to destroying him! Think
of the resistance and the exasperation that rise up against every
confessing Christian! And so it is within ourselves too; as soon
as we have given ourselves to Jesus Christ, the Adversary
mobilizes every hostile force within us, from crude sensuality
to the subtle doubts in our minds, in order to drive Jesus from
the arena and conquer our hearts.
Of course the satamc strategy is far too cunning to limit itself
to frontal attacks and to approach us with crude seductions.
For as a rule frontal attacks can be detected before they are
launched and one can prepare for them. Rather the Adversary
usually begins in the secondary theaters of war. He pitches us,
for example, into the state where we have a chronic lack of time,
which on the surface seems to be a very ordinary affair that has
little to do with spiritual things; but meanwhile this lack of
time deprives us of time for prayer. Or he lays the morning
paper on our breakfast table and it robs us of the quietness of
prayer by involving us in the excitements of the day's events.
Or he encompasses us with a thousand cares, whose ugly faces
keep staring through our prayers as in a glass and thus become
the real preoccupation of our hearts. Or he makes us champions
of evangelical freedom and surreptitiously makes it a pretext
for evil. All this makes it clear that the disciple of Jesus is being
led into a more intensified struggle. For all this simply con-
fronts him with tasks which he has to cope with day by day
and deal with in a very practical way. It is a highly practical,
matter-of-fact, clearly defined task to deal with lack of time,
to prevent the daily newspaper from superseding the Bible, and
to see to it that, though cares may flutter about our heads like
gloomy birds, they do not build their nests there.
So the peace of God is no resting place free of struggle and
temptation, but rather a struggle made all the more intense
because Jesus is so mighty. Anybody who has so great a Lord
as this also has the honor of having many enemies.
But then the worst danger in this battle is what the Lord
in this text calls "hypocrisy." We have already had to speak
116 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
about it in earlier parts of these talks. Hypocrisy is far more
than a mere make-beheve maneuver in which one makes a rather
crude attempt to appear more devout than one really is. Here
Jesus is undoubtedly speaking of unconscious hypocrisy. He
is speaking of our worshiping God outwardly and without
knowing it actually serving ourselves and the devil. Thus
hypocrisy can be a horrible aberration in our life poisoning it
unwittingly at its deepest root.
In our text Jesus shows us how and when this happens. It
happens when our life, including our inner life, is not lived
in a primary relationship with God, in solitude with God alone,
but is lived outwardly directed toward men, or when I am a
spectator of my own piety. In other words, when this inner
life, instead of being a "treasure in heaven" (Matt. 6:20), in-
stead of being "hidden with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3), becomes
something to be displayed in the show window of our life.
Now some of you may smile secretly and say to yourselves,
"Well, that couldn't happen to me; I don't put on a dismal or a
pious face, I don't stand or kneel in church saying my prayers
too long and too conspicuously (which would be about the
equivalent of praying at the street corners), nor am I what one
could call a sanctimonious or a pious saint." Are you sure about
that? Here again I can only warn that we tend to think of
what happens here in our inner life as being something crude
and clumsy. The nets with which the Adversary seeks to catch
us are made of gossamer and almost invisible. Only in the light
of Jesus Christ does their glint begin to betray them so that
we recognize them for what they are.
Perhaps the best thing we can do is to say some very plain
and practical things about this refined form of hypocrisy.
Take, for example, the custom in many Christian circles of
giving "testimonies." Well, why shouldn't one give testimony?
"Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." Why
shouldn't a person be allowed to tell the story of what Jesus
Christ the Savior has done for him? The old story of how he
went on for years with no peace in his life, bound by secret
servitudes and chains, and then how Christ became too strong
to resist and finally brought him to the peace of his Cross and
the joy of forgiveness. I know many people who have been
conquered and converted by such a testimony, when no sermon
had ever accomplished it before. Did not the apostles do the
same thing? Testimony is really a genuine form of proclamation.
But yet there is always this fact that we can observe in our-
selves and in others. In many of these testimonies, especially
when they take the form of constantly repeated stories of con-
version, a record played over and over again, the focus some-
how gets shifted. The testimony no longer deals with the Lord
who has acted upon us, but deals with the level on which this
action took place, and this level is ourselves we who pky a
very interesting role in it. We really mean in all this to give
praise to our Lord (soli Deo gloria!), but in reality it has become
a bit of autobiographical pomposity. We make an impression
with it, and this pleases us; so we go on repeating it frequently.
But everything that contributes to the glory of the person and
hence takes the glory away from God becomes a lie. Thus in
the end it turns out to be a false, oversimplified black and white
So it made no small impression upon me one time when an
old servant of God, after listening to another who never stopped
telling the story of his repentance and conversion, poured a
little water into the wine of his pious testimony by saying,
"Come, come, Peterkin, put the cork on it or it will lose its
bouquet"; in other words, it will lose the fine fragrance which
it has only in secret quietness with God.
This is exactly what Jesus meant, exactly what one might call
the double-tracked, self-contradictory character of our life.
True, we worship God by means of our words, we give testi-
mony. But in reality we have already falsified the theme, be-
118 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
cause we talk about ourselves. And this is just what fixes our
secret mtent upon men, the people whom we want to impress.
This is the terrible contradiction in which we often involve our-
selves and for which we should stop and examine ourselves
thoroughly and in all objective earnestness.
Therefore every Christian who wants to confess his Lord
and certainly every one of us, and by no means only the preach-
ers, desires and is committed to do this-must again and again
enter into solitude with God, into the quietness of prayer, where
no man listens to what is said. Only the words that come out
of this quiet conversation with the Father, this secret place,
can really magnify our Lord and bring him close to a man.
Everything I talk about with men I must first have talked about
with my Father. And Jesus himself was able to talk to men with
such power and authority only because he sought out the time
and the privacy to talk with the Father beyond all self-conceit
and all pious purposes.
How many people there are who do not find God because
they are this kind of hypocrite, because this false note and this
false perspective creeps into their search for God even their
search for God! How many there are who will not go through
with this wrestling for the truth, for God, for the foundations
of life! They are so bent upon being Faustian God-seekers that
they never really want to reach the goal. One recognizes them
by their mania for carrying on religious and philosophical dis-
cussions, for letting their intellect and the earnestness of their
searching shine. And down underneath, to them the peace of
God for which they appear to be searching is much too "simple"
a thing to give them enough occasion to show it off.
This type, which is especially widespread among the intel-
lectuals, is exactly the type of hypocrite described by Jesus; he
is the type of "man in contradiction." The whole theme of his
inner struggle appears to be God, appears to be peace; but in
truth he himself is the theme. He likes the pose of a seeker, he
enjoys his Faustian coquetry* He gathers treasures in a show-
window and gets a narcissistic pleasure from them. This is why
such a person cannot find peace. He is one of the trials of the
pastor, the hardest to deal with and only the miracle of the Holy
Spirit can really touch him.
For the Father sees the hidden places of the heart. Here and
only here must one begin to become a Christian. Rather curse
outwardly and create the impression of carelessness than fall
victim to the passion for putting on a show and be caught in
the toils of self-conceit. Vanity in one's own eyes is always
much worse than vanity before others. The person who fancies
himself cutting a "tragic" figure is hermetically sealing himself
off from the realm of the Holy Spirit.
If only our hidden life with God is in order and there is
within us a secret place of prayer and spiritual discipline and
struggle! By this secret stillness and by this alone will God
calculate the value and consequence of our life when the hour
of reckoning and recompense comes.
So we have said that the message of our text is by no means
concerned only with fasting, but rather that it is a call to the
struggle of faith. Because we have a mighty Lord, his enemies
also exert themselves mightily. Everything within us masses
together in the struggle to displace him and possess our heart:
the roaring of our passions that prevents us from hearing; the
lack of time that keeps us from talking with the Father; the
worries and cares that kill all prayer because they pitch us into
restlessness and faithlessness; die vanity and the coquetry that
rob us of solitude and seduce us into self-importance and thus
make God unimportant.
A full stomach or an empty one is a factor here too. Well-
fed people often forget that they have no peace and that some-
thing vital is lacking. And the rich who have everything are
always thought of in the New Testament as being in the greatest
jeopardy. But the hunger, which so many of us have learned
120 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
to know, is certainly not in itself a spiritual discipline and it does
not bring us any closer to the heavenly home. Rather the
opposite; for usually it brings in its train despair, dullness, care,
and weariness of prayer.
But remember this; there is nothing in life neither fullness
nor hunger, neither culture nor rubbled ruins, neither home nor
far country that cannot become a vehicle of infinite grace when
it comes to those who love God. For then it is quite simply a
question of taking as literally and realistically as possible the
promise that "everything works for good with those who love
God." The distress we all are having to endure now, the worry
about what will happen to Germany, the anxiety for the future
of our deeply confused world, the need for food and clothing,
and all the other little afflictions are all primarily a question
addressed to us. And the question is whether we are going to
let all these things lead to sadness, despair, and despondency, or
whether for once we are simply going to make the tremendous
and yet so simple venture of 'blindly trusting these words of
the Lord that they will work together for our good and that
they will do this the very moment we dare to fear these things
less than we love God.
In other words, the opposite of fear is not courage (courage
is only repressed fear). The opposite of fear is love toward him
who has overcome the world and who therefore also takes away
the fear that prevails in the world. The very troubles with
which the devil stokes up our despair can also become the
material from which the Holy Spirit forms our faith. So I dare
to ask: Who is given a greater chance to experience the miracle
of faith, the security of the Father's house, and the unspeakable
solicitude of our God than those who come with empty hands
and then find them filled by God, those who hunger and thirst
and then see and taste that God never allows them to pray in
vain for daily bread, that he feeds the birds of the air and even
more his dearly purchased children* So let us be watchful and
sober and really keep our eyes on him who cares for the birds
and the lilies and his children (let us do this in the sense of the
spiritual discipline and training we have been talking about),
in order that these eyes of ours may not be lost in the dark, but
keep looking for the hand of the Father.
Then, too, let us also put the cares and the worries, the anxiety
and the hunger of hearts and bodies in the hand of him who can
change all things, who can turn water into wine, despair into
faith, and the fear of the far country into the blessed peace
of the children of God.
*Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and
rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for
yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust con-
sumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your
treasure is, there will your heart be also.
"The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your
whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your
whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is
darkness, how great is the darkness!
"No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one
and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise
the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you
shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you
shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than
clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap
nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being
anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you
anxious about clothing 3 Consider the hlies of the field, how they
grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in
all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes
the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown
into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little
faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?'
or 'What shall we drink^' or 'What shall we wear*' For the Gentiles
seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need
OVERCOMING ANXIETY 123
them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all
these things shall be yours as well.
"Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow for tomorrow will
be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for
the day." Matthew
All the idyllic pictures in this text of carefree birds and
happy lilies and the glory and splendor of Solomon cannot hide
from us the fact that Jesus is saying something tremendously
upsetting here; upsetting simply because now it all has to be
transposed from the light of nature into drab gray of our every-
day life. And it is this very question, whether such a trans-
position from the one to the other is possible, that turns our
"lovely" text into a hard morsel to swallow. For, after all, our
everyday life is filled with some very downright, realistic cares
which simply cannot be conjured away. The businessman tor-
ments himself with the problem of filling his shelves with goods
and emptying them again. In times of competition he fears the
transiency of fortune and anxiously he contemplates the coming
of reverses. The mother worries about the future of her chil-
dren and young people are afraid they will miss something life
has to offer. The student worries over his examinations and the
aging woman fears that soon the door will be closed upon her.
Is there any need to go on describing this vicious circle of
care in which we are caught, this serpent which is constantly
biting its own tail? Well, I do not believe that we have come
together here for this purpose, merely to listen to this old song
that buzzes in our ears every day sung once more in church.
But the question is, have we come together to do the opposite?
To forget for a moment the tormenting, gnawing, wearing
world* To forget the worries we have about the tensions be-
tween the East and the West? To forget for a while what may
124 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
become of that sick husband, that child who is having difficulties
in growing up? Well, we are not going to wallow in such ques-
tions either. But we do ask whether we have come here to
forget, merely to give ourselves a few breaths of narcosis in
the religious world removed from everyday concerns and in-
dulge in a little romantic nature study by contemplating the
birds of the air and their obviously happier existence.
But if we are doing this, we certainly are missing the point
of this Word of God. For the very purpose of this Word is to
get down into our cares and our fears; its very intent is to en-
courage and cheer us by telling us that he who said these words
about the lilies and the birds bore in his own body all the pains
and fears, all the torments and mortal struggles, not because he
wanted to soar above them for a while, but rather because he
wanted to be in them as our brother and therefore suffer them
with us. How then can we so wrongfully use this Word as a
drug to make us forget, a means of pious ecstasy?
But just because this is true, the text is so difficult for us.
How in the world can the life of carefree birds be transposed
into our troubled world? In the face of the brutal problems of
existence what can we do with these words: "Look at the birds,
consider the lilies"? We fear the reactionary dreams about
the good old times because they may cause us to miss the present.
But we also fear the romanticism of nature because it can become
a flight from reality and therefore dishonest.
Nevertheless I think we must stop and listen when this man,
whose life on earth was anything but birdlike and lilylike,
points us to the carefreeness of the birds and lilies. Were not
the somber shadows of the Cross already looming over this hour
of the Sermon on the Mount? Was not Jesus already seeing the
"tomorrow" of his own life, the tomorrow which he bids us not
to worry about, filling up with dark clouds from which very
soon the lightning will flash upon him? And does he not see
that through these very words, which he speaks and himself
OVERCOMING ANXIETY 125
lives by, he is actually attracting this lightning to himself? Do
you think he had no presentiment of the dreadfulness of that
explosion? No presentiment that very soon would come a
"tomorrow" when he would have to beg his Father to let this
cup pass from him?
Isn't it true that everything depends upon who it is that says
these words about the birds and the lilies? A person who sees,
as Jesus Christ did, the human and the nonhuman domain of
the cosmos pervaded with fissures, menaces, and rebellions
against God and throws himself and his whole existence into
it, who sees not only the flaming signs of his own downfall but
those of the whole world flickering on the horizon, who already
knows the hour when the mountains shall cover us and the sun
and moon will be darkened well, I should say that, coming
from him, these words about the birds and the lilies and their
marvelous freedom from care means something different from
what it would if it were spoken by some romantic nature lover
So we ask ourselves quite simply what Jesus meant by "care."
Does he mean every kind of care and forethought?
After all, there is the anxious love of mothers; and who does
not regard the lines of care and concern on the face of a mother
with reverence? Are these really lines of guilt?
And is not "care" inherent in every kind of serious work*
After all, I simply must give thought, agonizing thought per-
haps, to whether I am equal to a task because I have to cope
with it, to how I can break it down into stages, the obstacles
and resistances I must overcome. Even according to Jesus' own
statement must not a man who proposes to build a tower sit
down and count the cost, and therefore "take thought," "whether
he has enough to complete it" (Luke 14:28)? Is he really for-
bidding the sower to work and thus also to take thought?
We soon find that here we are on the wrong track. For what
Jesus means by carefreeness is impossible to find in this direction.
126 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
He is really directing our attention to the fact that even
with and despite this perfectly justified care we can be un-
faithful to God, and that we do this when we take all these
tasks and gifts, which we have received from God in the first
place, and set them above the Giver, and thus give preference
to the created things over the Creator. But in the language of
the Bible this way of turning things upside down is called
We are anxious, for example, about food and clothing. Don't
we know that as God's children we get them from God's hand?
After all, he creates all life and all that is necessary for life.
But often how indifferent we are to this giving hand compared
with the gift itself. How typical it is of us: we do not worry
about whether we remain in the hands of God or what this
hand may do with us; we worry only about the means by which
God is supposed to help us. I say "supposed," for we have all
got it in our heads that we are supposed to be helped in such
and such a way. We must have food and clothing at t his time,
from such and such a source, and in such and such quantity.
True, we understand that it is God who must help us and that
we cannot get along without him (after all, we're not atheists 1 ),
so we go ahead and ask him for the sources, the dates, and the
necessary quantities. We decide, as it were, what "providence"
shall be, what the radius and therefore the program of its action
shall be. In other words, God is supposed to help us only by
opening the door we are looking at and carrying out the pro-
gram which we have planned for ourselves. To leave to him
the way in which he will help us, this seems to us a bit too
risky, too presumptuous. That God with all his higher thoughts
should have any thoughts about how he will help us, that he
should let his help break in "unexpectedly," and therefore con-
trary to all our plans and deliberations, in the form of "surprises,"
this seems to us to be demanding too much of our trust. And
yet again and again we are surprised and shamed when this is
OVERCOMING ANXIETY 127
exactly what he does, when what we need is provided in the
most incredible and punctual way.
And because we cling to the ways and means and our own
programs, we also have no joy in our prayers and only half
of our heart is in them. For the other half is already dwelling
on "tomorrow"; already our mind is wandering. It is considering
and calculating whether God will really provide the means we
pray for and how we can help ourselves in case he does not
intervene. Meanwhile the words of our prayer grow flat and
musty. They do not make us fresh and glad, as prayer should,
but go limping and fluttering to the ceiling, but certainly not
to heaven. So we are torn between faith and doubt, anxiety
and trust. And in this state how can we ever talk joyfully with
the Father and trustfully commit everything our cares about
clothing, shoes, food, and drink into his hands? In this state
how can we ever venture to keep our own hands folded, which,
after all, is the symbolical meaning of the gesture of prayer?
In this state we rather tend to let our hands drum nervously
on the table or secretly reach for the latch of the door which
we are stubbornly convinced is the only one through which
God's help can come, the way which our own arrogant and
untrusting thoughts have devised and deluded us into believing.
This is where Jesus sees the curse of care that in care we
are always looking to our own ways and not to the goals of
God, who has his own ways for us. So the first thing he teaches
us is to fix our eyes on this goal: the kingdom of God, every-
thing in which God completely realizes his higher thoughts
and therefore where he will be all in all. Once we dare to do
this, once we earnestly fix our eyes on God's goal for our world
and our life, then in every circumstance we will also be sure
that everything else "will be ours as well," that is, that then
God will give us abundantly all that we need to gain this goal.
Perhaps we need bread and physical strength for years to
come because we shall be needed for long years in his service
128 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
and to help others to find the kingdom of God. Perhaps we
need it too because God still has a long way to train and prepare
us, so that perhaps as old men and women, after a thousand
faults and follies, we may finally find him.
But perhaps who really knows? we also need hunger and
nakedness and imprisonment, in order that we may lose our
trust in our own strength and learn to understand the blessing
of empty hands and physical and spiritual poverty, which really
teaches us for the first time to cry out for the riches and the
abundance in the Father's hands. Often we do not know what
to pray for, often we do not know what we need and what to
wish for. Perhaps it may be good for us to be released from
imprisonment soon, but perhaps the best thing for me may be
to remain longer in this discipline. How many a man has
written to me or said to me in retrospect to this dark time in
his life, that he was glad for his imprisonment and that he would
not have missed a moment of this guidance of God, simply
because it had been God's guidance.
Looking at it from this point of view we already understand
better why our preoccupation with our own way and our own
advantage, why this everlasting care and anxiety for both is
so foolish and dangerous. We only become more deeply im-
mersed in ourselves and get caught in the vicious circle of
delusion, instead of lifting up our heads and looking to the goal
of God. Let it be enough then for us to know that God will
take care of all the ways that lead to this goal: the money we
need and also the illness (or the recovery) we need, will come
just when we need them. But we will be blessed by both only
if we dare to trust that God has set his theme for our life, so
that now everything, really everything, must serve to the carry-
ing out of this theme.
But how can we really take anything as coming from the
hand of God, if we do not keep this theme in view, if we do not
let this one thing needful be our sole and ultimate concern?
OVERCOMING ANXIETY 129
The man who shirks this care, this concern lest he lose sight
of this goal of God's grace, will then have to worry about every-
thing else the accident he may have with his car, the next tax
declaration, every frown on his boss's face. And conversely,
the man who constantly keeps in his heart this one concern not
to lose contact with the hand of God will be able to allow a
sovereign carefreeness to govern everything with which he is
then in duty bound to concern himself, simply because he is
prepared at any time to let God cancel and throw away his
own plans and programs. For he knows that the Father's red
pencil is not the terrifying instrument of an evil and incalculable
censor, but rather that this is the only way that God can lead
us to his royal goal. He knows therefore that every red check
is not only a sign of judgment, but rather a sign of grace,
erected above our shortsighted and deluded eyes, an assurance
that he is at work and that he will not allow us to fall victim
to our well-meant follies and plans.
All this makes it clear why care is "idolatry." We worship
the creaturely bread by which we are satisfied instead of wor-
shiping the Lord who satisfies us in many different ways.
We worship money, the tangible values, and still do not find
happiness, because moth and rust consume them. And because
we know this very well, we go on gathering more and more,
and grow ever more anxious to win the race against the moths
and the rust. It is not only "joy" that "wants deep, deep eter-
nity" (Nietzsche), but also anxiety and care go on increasing
endlessly. We also worry further that thieves may come and
take away what we have accumulated: an inflation or a deflation
or the internal revenue. So immediately for him who has lost
contact with God, the deserted heaven is peopled with imps
and specters. Every cloud fills him with foreboding, for lightning
may flash from it. Even the horizon is kden with mysteries
that evoke tension and anxiety. One never knows what is behind
it and what the morrow may bring. Our world becomes a
130 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
world of cares and specters, and we begin to understand the
terrible image our Germanic ancestors used to describe this
danger that comes from the horizon, this primal anxiety of life:
the image of the Midgard serpent that encircles the globe and
is able to crush our whole world in its dreadful embrace. A
world surrounded by the serpent this is the world that has
lost the Father, the world of care.
Whoever keeps his eyes on the "means" by which God can
help (whoever relies on the miracle men of history, on parties
and reform programs, especially when they end with "isms") is
entrusting himself to false gods, and down underneath he knows
full well that they will cheat him. What a vicious circle: the
man who worries and cares worships false gods, and the false
gods plunge him into fresh cares and anxieties.
This whole problem of being free from care is not at all a
matter of better balanced technique for living which would
be less hard on the nerves, but rather of our getting away from
slavery to the false gods. Only if we see this can we compre-
hend the peace that comes to us with its blessing in Jesus' saying
that the treasure we lay up in heaven is safe from thieves and
rust. He who invests the treasure of his trust in God's bank
is the only one who will never be defrauded either in this
world or the next because it is safe with him whose heart is
faithful and loving, whose eye watches over him, and whose
hands are ready to bestow upon him from his eternal abundance
all that he needs.
How dreadful it is when a man no longer sees all this, when
his eyes become deceivers and he loses all sense of the real pro-
portions of life, and then regards the paltry pennies and miser-
able crumbs more highly than the hand that bestows them and
is eager to bestow upon us infinitely greater blessings and
abundance than the pennies and crumbs we worry about.
Only one thing is needful and that is this hand of the Father,
which is Jesus Christ himself. When we hold on to that hand
OVERCOMING ANXIETY 131
we have everything life and salvation, peace and freedom from
care, and then quite incidentally, "in sleep," as that wonderful
phrase of Scripture puts it (Ps. 127:2), we are also given what
this hand has to give: the pennies and crumbs, the food and
drink, shoes and clothing, and everything that we need for life.
And the reverse is also true. He who does not have this one
and only hand sinks into care and anxiousness, into fear of
thieves and moths, and persecution complexes; and then no
penny is too paltry and no crumb is too small to lie like an
incubus upon his chest, a false god and specter that robs him of
The opposite of tormenting care is not the carefreeness of
those who are amply and securely provided with all the neces-
sities of life just ask whether the man in the mansion sleeps
more peacefully than the man in the tenement! No, the opposite
of care is the peace of God, which I can have when Jesus Christ
has taken my hand and put it back in the hand of the Father.
We are not carefree when the sea is calm and the ship of
our life glides pleasantly along. But we can be carefree even
if the waves rise high, when the Lord sleeps in our ship and
we know that it cannot go down, that winds and weather can-
not hurt us, because he who can command them in a moment is
with us. The one care that should concern us is that we do not
throw away our trust in the Lord who would sleep in our ship
and is able to walk upon the waves. As soon as we direct our
cares to the wrong address, namely, the waves, we are caught
in the grip of mortal terror and we sink just as Peter did. False
care is not to be combatted with an artificial and forced care-
freeness this would be sterile make-believe and would lead to
nothing but an ostrich policy. Care can only be cured by care.
Care about many things can be cured only by care about "the
one thing needful." This is the homeopathy of divine healing.
But there is one last question that may trouble us. The
First Epistle of Peter tells us, "Cast all your anxieties on him."
132 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
This would mean that we still may have cares and can bring
them to our Lord and Savior. So perhaps we may still come
to him with the many little things in our life. For it is true,
isn't it, that the greatest part of our cares have nothing to do
with the great perspectives of world history, but are mostly
trifles? Ought we not then be allowed to bring these things
into our prayers? Are we allowed only to say, "Thy will be
done"? Does this petition mean that we must pay no attention
to our little cares and simply go drifting romantically on>
It need only be expressed in this way and we see at once that
it cannot have been meant in that way, for the Lord's Prayer
itself teaches us to pray to the Father for daily bread and our
small daily rations. The fact is that we can come to the Father
with everything; and Jesus Christ, who brings us to him, com-
forted the bereaved mother in her sorrow and care for the
future; he helped the poor who knew not how they would
survive the next day. Even the matter of drink at a wedding he
took seriously. So carefully does he watch and attend to our
little cares! And because this is so, we can tell him in our prayers
the ways and means we see by which our cares may be relieved.
We can tell God where we hope to get our bread so that he may
open this particular door. We can tell him which people seem
to have helpful contacts so that he may move their hearts to help.
It would be unnatural not to allow ourselves these prayers for
definite ways and means, for these are the very things we worry
about, the very things we should cast on God. God certainly
does not want us to suppress our cares and never let them out; he
wants us to bring them to him openly and freely. After all, this
is why we are his children for Jesus' sake. And what earthly
father would wish that his child should keep anything from him
But then, having done this, and having the right to do it, it
is time to stress the other petition: "Thy will be done" and
OVERCOMING ANXIETY 133
"Not what I will, but what thou wilt." What that petition means
would run something like this:
"So, dear Father, I have told thee everything that troubles
me; I have told thee the ways in which I think I might be helped,
and I have prayed that in thy mercy thou wouldst help in the
ways I think it should be done. But now, O Father, I draw a
line through it all, forget it all and leave it all behind; now do
with me as thou wilt. Thy will be done not mine. For all the
world, with its history, its terrors and enigmas must one day
end at thy throne; and thou wilt bring it there, despite the
opposition and conceit of man. Let my life too, with all its
needs and cares, end at the throne of thy heart. Dear heavenly
Father, thou knowest the ways and thou dost wonderfully know
how to make them smooth. Thou hast ways above all other
ways to put to shame our frets and cares and thou will make
even the worst and hardest things work together for good."
The man who has many cares also has the greatest chance of
faith, just because he has so much to bring to his Lord, just
because all this can be transformed into a great trust.
There are many needs, but only one thing is needful; and if
we have this one thing, the rest will come in sleep. That's the
royal promise of God and also the royal experience of all the
children of God. "To put to shame our fretting, unexpected
will it be." And this "unexpectedness," the surprises of God,
this is the end of all our plans and cares. God's work can begin
only when we have reached the end of our own tether. O men
of little faith, why then are you so fainthearted? Does any-
thing ever happen except God's will?
Care is a question addressed to the future in fear and trembling.
It is the fearful question of what is going to happen. For the
future is full of threatening possibilities. There in the future
134 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
is the endangered harvest burned by a merciless sun, and throng-
ing problems of world politics, the creaking in the world's foun-
dations seems more and more to be changing into the sound of
cracking, and we wait for die moment when this precariously
balanced structure will collapse and the savage flames of fresh
catastrophe will burst from its windows.
We know what all this can mean: hunger, being driven out
of house and home, falling into the cruel hands of men. We
know the sight and the sound of homes collapsing in flames, the
times that are past all human help. We know this because our
own eyes have seen the red blaze and our own ears have heard
the sound of crashing, f ailing, and shrieking.
Is there any wonder, then, that we should be apprehensive
that all this may repeat itself or that the old theme of catastrophe
may be given further variations? We know the torments of
which this world is capable. Is it sinful, then, to have these
cares^ Is it sinful to have known and experienced dread, to
know that everything is "possible"?
I think not, and above all I do not think that this is the way
to approach the mystery that Jesus has in mind when he speaks
of the disobedience and the sin of worrying. For all these things
we have just mentioned, the experiences that have made us
knowing and therefore so anxious about the future all this lies
in the realm of the things that come into our mouth, our eyes,
and our ears from the outside. And this is the realm our Lord
once saidthat does not defile a man (Matt. 15:15ff.). Only
what comes out of the heart, from the inside to the outside,
defiles us and makes us sinful. In these hearts of ours evil thoughts
are constantly rising like bubbles of poisonous marsh gas, and
among these evil thoughts are also our cares. So here is the
source and secret of care; this is where we must look.
Therefore if we want to get rid of our cares, this everlasting
anxiety, and all the nervousness connected with it, we dare not
try to minimize the distresses of the coming winter and just
OVERCOMING ANXIETY 135
be optimistic about the world situation; this would only pro-
duce a temporary narcosis which would all too soon be followed
by a sad awakening. No, we must let God give us a new heart.
Once this heart is decontaminated, then the poisonous gases
and delusions of anxiety will no longer rise from it.
So if we have to stop and consider for a while this heart of
ours, this desperate and deceitful thing, this reservoir of our
guilt and fear, I am aware that this is no welcome subject. Some
perhaps may think, "Why doesn't he leave all these gloomy
subjects out of his sermon today and talk to us about the golden
streets and crystal streams? We've got enough gloom and fear
around us already."
Ah, but we can talk about our hearts as Christians, and sud-
denly it isn't a gloomy subject at all. For these are the hearts
to which all the promises of God were addressed, the central
promise that they can become places of peace and fearlessness,
because Jesus Christ is present and he has rescued them from
the dark powers. Now we can talk about it as Jesus himself
talked about it in the Sermon on the Mount. The first thing
he said was, "Blessed are you. Already you are in my care. Now
you can look at the terrible abysses without fear and trembling."
So this heart is mysteriously changed and thus the place of terror
becomes a place of wonder. So this terrible heart can show you
what depths you have been snatched from and how great must
have been the love that moved God to make this wild, unruly
heart his own in Jesus Christ. You may show a man marked
for death his face in a mirror and mortal terror may spring upon
him from the glass when he sees himself in this dreadful dilapida-
tion. But you can show a convalescent a picture of himself
taken in his worst illness and it cannot harm him, for then instead
it can become the occasion for fervent thanksgiving.
In this sense, then, as those who have been called by name
and snatched from the depths of fear and guilt by Jesus Christ,
we shall dare to look into our own anxious, burdened, and self-
136 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
tormenting hearts. We look at them in the presence of Jesus
Christ; in the presence of peace we see how full of strife and
bickering are our thoughts.
But how does care get into our hearts* Faust says this about it-
Deep in the heart nests Care, a question unbidden
Ever with some new mask she hides her face,
Herself as wife and child, as house and homestead veiling,
As fire, water, poison, steel;
Each blow that falls not dost thou feel,
And what thou ne'er shalt lose, that ever art bewailing.
In these words we all recognize our own natural heart. For
here we are told that the anxious spirit does not come into our
heart from the outside, that it is not the threatened situation
of my family, nor my health, nor the menacing constellations of
world affairs that cause us care; for all these troubles could
also evoke the opposite of care in us; they could serve to make
us throw away our trust in human help and in both despair and
confidence at once commit ourselves to God's mercy. No, what
we are told here is that care comes out of our hearts. I fear that
someone will take a shot at me from the dark; I am afraid of
denouncers, or people who are jealous of me, or other wicked
men. But the shots never come. I am afraid of short circuits
that will set the house on fire; but the lines are intact. I fear
that my home will be entered and my children killed; but it
never happens and the children are playing happily in the sun-
shine: "Each blow that falls not dost thou feel, and what thou
ne'er shalt lose, that ever art bewailing."
This heart has within it a great store of anxiety, delusion,
and discord and then it proceeds to work like a weird motion
picture machine that translates this store of anxiety and discord
into horrible pictures. Then what happens to me is exactly what
happens to the spectator in the movies: I am caught in the illu-
sion that these images are real things coming at me from the
OVERCOMING ANXIETY 137
screen. I literally live with these people and their fate, and in
the same way I live with the fearful chimeras of care as if they
were realities. And meanwhile, all this comes from my heart;
they are all figments of this heart that is "deceitful above all
things and desperately corrupt" (Jer. 17:9).
How does this happen?
Just before Faust uttered these terrible and yet deeply dis-
cerning words about care he had cried out in blasphemous self-
assertion, "I am the image of the Godhead"; and in the next
moment he sold himself to the devil.
This is very important for any understanding of the mystery
of care. It means that when a man no longer looks at the world
and life from the vantage point of the peace of fellowship with
God, then he simply has to look at it the way it looks under
the dominion of the devil. Ah, but then there is the threatened
world: doesn't everything end in death? "Past and pure Naught
... it is the same as had it never been," says the devil at the
death of Faust. In the end the Grim Reaper comes to fetch even
the greatest of men. Not a trace of meaning, no sense in life
whatsoever, says the devil (for the devil is a nihilist): just look
at all the crooks and grafters having a sweet life of it, while
the good are left in misery holding the bag! This is the argument
with which the devil drove Job almost out of his wits, smiting
this good man with one disaster after another and allowing the
cheats and scoundrels to prosper. He was trying to persuade him
that life is nothing but a jumbled confusion of accident and
chance, utterly unfatherly, utterly ungodly. A person is a fool
to expect divine justice, a fool if he is so stupid to imagine that
good will be rewarded and wickedness punished. Haven't we
all known this temptation of Job in our hearts? "Haphazard
strikes the lightning" this the devil whispered into people's
hearts on the nights the bombs were falling and they under-
stood him: in dreadful resignation they said, "It's fate," when
cathedrals fell in ashes and taverns survived the storm.
138 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
This is what the world looks like from the devil's perspective,
this is what it looks like "this side of God": a blind game of
dice, an aimless journey into the unknown. Mind you, in this
world everything, literally everything is possible: you can be-
come a millionaire or a starveling, you can be dead tomorrow
because a brick has fallen on your head, or you can become an
old man weary of life. You can become a governor or be sent
to prison tomorrow, or both at the same time. It is absurd to
look for any meaning and sense in all this. In a mixed-up world
like this you will have to content yourself with the fact that
everything, absolutely everything is "possible."
And for this knowledge that anything is "possible" modern
man has coined the term "anxiety of life." Earlier generations
were aware of the fear of death, but man today is afraid of life.
Not because he is especially cowardly when it comes to war
and nights of bombing. On the contrary, he is probably more
courageous than former generations and some times even fool-
hardy. But he is afraid of life. He is afraid of everything that
might happen in this unpredictable world that is loaded with
every conceivable "possibility." He feels so terribly alone as
he faces all this. If he knew that Someone is ivtth him, indeed, if
he knew that Someone sends all these things, terrible as they may
be, and if he knew that this Someone had a purpose in all this
and that there is love in it somewhere, then he could bear
But this is just what he does not know. And therefore he
is helplessly delivered over to the mad dance of life. He must
fear everything because everything is "possible" That's why
the horrible images loom up in his heart and the projection
machine of this anxiety of life throws them vividly upon the
screen, and "what he never will lose he must be always bewail-
ing." He must bewail it, just because he could lose everything,
because everything is "possible" in this world of the devil, which
Job suffered down to the bitter dregs.
OVERCOMING ANXIETY 139
Don't you see now that in the last analysis it is our unredeemed
hearts that are behind our cares and not the dangerous things
themselves, not even the bad harvest, not even the conflict be-
tween the East and the West? It is the heart that pictures the
world as full of moths and rust, atom bombs and catastrophes,
and is afraid of all the things that are "possible" and could happen
in an unpredictable world.
This is where we meet the deepest mysteries of our faith. In
Psalm 73 we have set before us the utter predicament of a man
who no longer discerns the leadings of God, a man who, like Job,
saw the terrible and senseless inversion of reward and punishment
and therefore was plunged into care and anxiety in the face of
this unpredictable world. Isn't the devil in ultimate control after
all? The psalmist was almost at the point of drawing this con-
clusion. And he forbore doing so only because it would con-
demn all the children of God and turn their faith into nothing
but a satanic delusion. Only this caused him to recoil from this
ultimate desperate conclusion.
But simply to recoil is not yet a return to the peace of God.
It is only flight from a conclusion too horrible to contemplate.
And yet this peace of God arches over the close of this psalm
like a reconciling rainbow and the good news of the grace of
God and peace with him is heard at the end.
How does the psalmist arrive at this peace in the midst of an
unpredictable world? Does he arrive at it, say, by a process of
reflection in which he discovers the meaning and suddenly the
light dawns on him^ Does he reflect and then say, it was "be-
cause" God wanted to mature me through suffering; "because"
he wanted to test my faith in the midst of this crazy, unpredict-
able world, he robbed me of my position, my living, my home,
my dearest "because . . ."? No; we shall look in vain in the
whole psalm for this kind of argument. It is the feverish thinking
of the worldly wise, who think they can fathom the meaning of
140 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
life that grasps for this kind of argument. The psalmist scorns
it. He simply says:
"Nevertheless I am continually with thee"
How is this remarkable "nevertheless" to be understood? How
can it bring release from the anxiety of life?
If there were one point at which I could see that there is a
living heart that beats for this world, then my anxiety would be
removed with one blow. Then nothing could touch me that had
not first passed the censorship of that heart and been declared
by that heart to be wholesome and good for me. Then in every-
thing that troubles me, in everything I dread the hidden theme
of love is at work, even though / am unable to detect it in the
confused beat of this disjointed world. Then for me it would
simply be enough that all these things come from the heart of
God and are meant to lead me back to him.
And this one point at which this tremendous liberating com-
fort and assurance becomes visible and available to me is Jesus
Christ. I have used the illustration of the magnifying glass be-
fore. Only if we look through the middle of the glass do we
see the object behind more sharply and clearly. The farther
we move away from it and the more our eyes are focused on
the edges of the glass, the more distorted and unrecognizable the
object becomes. And the same is true of the way that Jesus
Christ helps us to look at life. Only if we view the mystery of
life through him, through the Center of history, does it gain its
old clarity; for when we look through him we are looking into
the heart of God. But the farther we move away from this
Center and allow our eyes to wander to the edges the more dis-
torted, impenetrable and satanic becomes everything that comes
into our field of vision. At the margins the anxiety of life pre-
vails. Only at the center, the focus, only in Jesus Christ do I
see the Father and what he wills for me. I see him helping those
who hunger and thirst and in Jesus Christ I see him becoming
himself a man who hungers and thirsts, a prisoner, destitute and
OVERCOMING ANXIETY 141
naked. Here I see God in his Son allowing to throb and pulsate
through his own heart everything that is my own torment and
desire: the intoxication of power, the admiration of men, and all
the dreadful abysses that yawn in my own life. For in the hour
of temptation in the wilderness the Son of God took my own
wild heart, with all its temptations, all its drunken passions, all
its anxiety, into his own breast. So greatly did he love me! He
not only had compassion upon those who sit in darkness and the
shadow of death, but himself endured the darkness of satanic
powers and himself died our death.
When I see in my Savior Jesus Christ this heart of the Father,
this heart that beats for me and was wounded for my sake, then,
of course, I do not know, any more than the pagan or the worry-
ing Faust, whether I shall be alive tomorrow, or whether the
atom bomb will lay in dust and ashes the summer landscape that
now brings to my lips songs of praise and thanks and joy over
the glory of creation. Nor do I know (any more than the pagan
or Faust) why my beloved, the riches and the center of my life
has vanished in the East, whereas my neighbor's husband comes
home and starts the old marital rows all over again. As a Christian
I do not know the answers to these questions. And yet, myste-
riously, the care and the anxiety has been taken away from me,
because now I can say Yes, because God in his grace has given
me the power of acceptance. Now I no longer look at the future
in an attitude of tense defensiveness, filled with anxiety over all
the incalculable things that may be brewing there. Rather I
accept it, simply because a hand is being extended to me and it is
the hand of my Savior.
If that divine hand is there, and if this can only be cause for
me to rejoice (for who does not know what a helping hand can
mean when he is terribly ill, or when it is dark and he has lost
his bearings, or when he is pitched into the depths of sorrow?),
why should I not also be willing to accept what is in that hand,
why should I not joyfully walk the road where this hand leads
142 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
me? In the last analysis it doesn't matter at all whether I "under-
stand" the meaning of my life in all its strange turnings. Rather
everything depends on my keeping contact with that hand,
because then I can say Yes, then I can accept.
He gave himself for me and made good for all my debts, and
if he could do that, then he has only my best welfare at heart
even in the heaviest burdens and the roughest roads and he will
allow only what serves to my good to come to me.
The opposite of care is therefore not the kind of optimism
that persuades itself that everything is not so bad after all, that
things will straighten out somehow. The so-called optimists on
principle are generally mere windbags, superficial characters who
are not serious or courageous enough to face the realities.
Rather, the opposite of care is faith. It is the faith that knows
the uncertainty of the future and faces all the enigmas and seem-
ingly meaningless events of life. It simply says, "Nevertheless I
am continually with thee."
I beg you to note that faith does not say, "Nevertheless I
will remain standing; 'what does not get me down makes me
stronger.' " Any lout could say that, if the size of his brain did
not prevent him from thinking a philosophical thought. No;
faith says, "Perhaps I may fall and often I am helpless, but thou
wilt lift me up. My understanding is staggered and utterly con-
fused in the face of the great mass of suffering in the world, but
thou dost not forsake me, and therefore I too will hold fast to
thy hand. For I know that thy love has its way even in the
deepest darkness." This is the sense in which faith is the opposite
of care. And this is how the Lord himself expressed it when he
said, "Do not fear, only believe" (Mark 5:36).
Once we allow God to give us this trust, then we begin to
taste something of the royal freedom of the children of God and,
mysteriously, our whole attitude toward the future changes. Our
first interest is no longer the question (the frightened, despairing
question) whether God will help, but rather that other question
OVERCOMING ANXIETY 143
(the glad, confident, eagerly curious question) how God will
help. Pascal once said that it is glorious to ride on a ship in stormy
weather when one knows that it cannot go down.
This is the tumultuous joy of the Christian life, its laughter,
its humor, and its victorious, overcoming power this knowledge
that now our life is a ship like that, a ship in which Jesus Christ
sleeps and that never can go down. I know a genuine Christian
who has gone through terrible suffering and great danger and is
still going through it. He said to me one time, "Now the spir-
itual danger in my life is no longer that I count too little on
God. No, through countless mercies and the unbelievably punc-
tual ways in which he has helped me through, God has made
me almost too bold in the way in which I now let him do the
work and simply go along with him. Letting myself be carried
along is now a state that could become a spiritual danger to me."
However this may be, this man certainly experienced some-
thing of God's care and the carefreeness of his children.
This brings us then to the close and we have only this one
question to ask: How can we, quite practically, come to this
freedom from care in the presence of Jesus Christ?
Listen to a few very practicable rules given to us by the gospel.
1. The first is that we should not artificially turn away from
our cares (by constantly listening to the radio, for example, or
running to the movies, or some other kind of busy-work), but
rather direct our cares to him who wills to bear and share all our
sin and all our suffering and therefore all our cares. Not diver-
sion, but directing our cares. This is what to do. Jesus did not
say: Look at the ostrich, how it buries its head in the desert sand
and so tries to escape the fear of danger. No, he said: Look at
the birds of the air, keep your eyes open, stand up straight and
look to the heights where God makes known his grace and care.
2. The second rule is connected with the first. You should
not repress your cares but let them out Nor should you keep
144 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
weighing them and asking whether they have been inspired by
the devil and have their root in unbelief, or whether they are
important enough to bring to your heavenly Father. Did not
Jesus show compassionate condescension, meeting even the dis-
tress of the housewife when the wine ran out at a wedding, and
did he not also take in hand that foolish care of the mother of
the sons of Zebedee who wanted to see her sons placed, one at
his right hand and one at his left hand, in the kingdom of God?
Why should not he who forgives our sins smile at our foolish-
nesssmile in kindness, rather than be angry with us> Why
should not he who loves us common people also love the com-
mon little things about us? Why should he not take us as we
are, with all our manly energy and our childish fears, our hero-
ism and our petty, often foolish cares, and wrap us round with
his compassion? After all, it was his compassion that drove him
to leave the glories of heaven and come to us. So, because he is
our brother and companion, let us talk with God "as beloved
children approach their dear father."
3. We dare not remain alone for one moment with our cares
and anxieties; not for a minute of the worrisome night must we
allow them to claim our heart. And very practically this means
that as soon as our cares appear they must be transformed into
prayer. They are highly explosive and if we keep them in our
hands too long they will tear us to pieces. And when we see the
careworn, tormented faces of people on the subways and streets
we realize with horror that these are mangled corpses of people
who kept these grenades of care in their hands instead of flinging
them away and casting their care on him who in his immeasur-
able goodness has promised to care for us and whose heart is
proof against these perilous things.
But when we turn our cares into prayers a real "transforma-
tion" takes place, as with everything we bring to Jesus Christ.
For then they bring us far closer to the heart of the Father than
when we have no cares. He that cares much is also much loved,
OVERCOMING ANXIETY 145
and he who has many tears to dry feels the gentle hand of God
far more than others. The fact is that, in order to be confronted
by God "as one whom his mother comforts," one must become
a child, with all a child's fears and helplessness and terror of the
dark. And this child is still within even the strongest man. He
who never dares to cry out "Abba! Father!" never learns that
the child within him is crying out for redemption, and instead
of finding the royal peace of the children of God, he is left alone
with his own artificially forced show of so-called bravery. Con-
versely, he who immediately and daily transforms every care
into a prayer will still have to face the riddles of life and its
mysterious leadings. But the riddles will no longer torment him,
because he has contact with the Father's heart, the heart he sees
in his brother Jesus Christ, that heart in which all the inscrutable
mysteries of life prove to be mysteries of love and therefore
become consolations and joys. "Nevertheless I am continually
This is not merely a kind of stubborn, stone-faced loyalty to
God, but rather an expression of that joy and happiness I feel
when I know that the dark future and the meaningless dice game
of life can no longer hurt me, that it cannot faze or daunt me,
that in all the storms of life I have a place of peace where I can
lay my head and relax and sleep, just as Jesus slept in the plung-
ing ship while the faithless disciples were driven half mad by fear.
4. The whole history of the world with its terrors and un-
certainties must one day end at God's throne, even though once
more the terrible tides of tribulation, tanks, and atom bombs
should sweep down upon us who knows what could happen?
But even that will not be able to thwart God's plans and ultimate
goal; even that terror and travail would only bring us nearer to
But at the end, across the bloody fields, across the smoldering
earth and the all-consuming floods will sound the praise of God,
146 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
raised by all the angels, the redeemed, and all who have over-
come, because Jesus Christ is Victor.
At the evening of the world the victory of God 'will be
And therefore the last rule against care is this: whenever fear
of the immediate future, of hunger and cold, war and death
become too much for you, then for a moment stop your crying
and pleading. Then in the midst of the storm dare to praise God,
as the disciples in prison praised him. For to praise God means
to see the world from the point of view of its end, of the great
victory of God. And in this praise of God our views of things,
darkened and constricted by the press of battle will be refreshed
and gain direction and perspective.
Perhaps the greatest gift we have as Christians, who know
that our Lord has won the victory, is that even here and now,
not only at the end, we can praise God, simply because we know
what the end will be, simply because we know that there is one
victorious, shining theme that runs through all the loneliness and
homelessness, all the hunger, thirst, and mysteries of this life,
and that is: Nearer, my God, to thee.
He who knows that at the end is God's peace not merely cries
from the depths; he also can sing praise from the depths. But
then, he who praises God is not afraid.
The Judge Accused
"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you
pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be
the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your
brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or
how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of
your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye ? You hypocrite,
first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly
to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
"Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls
before swine, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack
you." Matthew j:l-6
We live in a time of constant and seemingly never ending
judgments.* The columns of our newspapers are filled with
reports of accounts being settled everywhere: those who were
responsible for the reign of terror that lies behind us are being
summoned to judgment. Statesmen, industrialists, leading phy-
sicians are being tried. People talk about the collective guilt, or
at any rate the collective liability of the whole nation. Individual
professions, the rank and file, the educated are asked about their
* The following comments refer to the numerous criminal and denazifica-
tion trials in the period immediately following the war. In recalling them
here we do so because they seem to represent an unusually conspicuous
eruption of "judgmental spirit" that is present in the world and to that
extent have symptomatic significance.
148 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
part in the world catastrophe. The soldiers are accused of fight-
ing under the wrong flag. Every one of us is both questioner
and questioned at the same time. There are constant ups and
downs and tos and fros in the courtrooms of our world, an ever-
lasting alternation between the bench and the dock. The world
has become a house of judgment. And it will probably con-
tinue to remain so. Only with disquietude dare one imagine the
fierce mutual recrimination and judgment that will break out
when the longed for hour comes when the separated parts of
our country are reunited.
What is the ultimate motive behind this passion of judgment,
cross-examination, and accusation with which the world seems
to be literally loaded? What lies behind the sworn assertions
of innocence and the equally solemn self-incriminations and con-
fessions of guilt* What lies behind this fate of our world which
has become a house of judgment, surrounding us all with grim,
I believe it is simply this: we all sense that our world has gone
out of joint at its innermost core (and therefore not merely
politically, economically, and culturally), that a deep rift runs
through the structure of the world. It is no longer possible to
live peacefully in this house for it threatens to collapse. There-
fore we must seek with all our strength to find out how the
rift got there and whose mad wickedness it was that undermined
the foundations. Behind this frantic search for the guilty is also
the knowledge that we are threatened, that an outrage has been
committed and we will find no rest until it has been uncovered
and the guilt expiated.
The situation is like that of Greek tragedy: the city is op-
pressed by the presence of the Sphinx and everyone knows that
a crime has been committed and must be atoned for. The ac-
counts must be settled if we are to go on living. The mushroom
cloud of Hiroshima hangs like a dark cloud over our world,
and if we do not have done with our judging the executions
THE JUDGE ACCUSED 149
will begin, and the head of the whole world including all judges,
all the accused, and the executioner himself is in some mys-
terious way already laid upon the block. This dark premoni-
tion lies behind this passionate rage for judging.
So the judgments buzz about our ears, uttered by excited
judges, excited because they themselves are threatened, and our
voices and verdicts are among them.
One verdict runs like this: "People have been playing a crim-
inal game with power and therefore say the judges we must
build the new world 'democratically, 5 that is, in such a way
that power will be properly distributed and thus the wickedness
of excessive power will be checked."
But immediately we hear the opposite judgment: "Just look
at the democracies! It may be that in the democracies the state
does not function as a wielder of power and brutal egoism, but
in place of that you have a system of group egoisms, interested
economic associations, political parties, and other ideological
powers." And the conflict of judgments, the furious succession
of the judging and the accused goes on.
Another verdict says this: "The cause of our misery is that
the dignity of man has been lost, that we have given up humanity.
So the inevitable result has been the enslavement of whole peo-
ples, the liquidation of the insane, the persecution of the Jews.
Therefore the violators of human dignity must be condemned
and there must be a new evaluation of the meaning of humanity."
But here again the counter argument is raised, this time per-
haps by Christians: "You cannot regain the concept of humanity,
no matter how earnestly you try, for you have lost God. Only
he who takes God seriously can take man seriously; so it is
only empty rhetoric to talk about restoring the image of man.
It is impossible for you to do this. The fault is that the whole
world is in flight from God and you humanists are right in the
midst of these refugees from God. If it depended on you, the
image of man would dissolve into an unsubstantial shadow. So
150 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
even against your will, you are contributing to the widening of
the rift in the world's structure."
So even on this subject the judging that goes on in the world
does not cease. The accusations keep surging back and forth.
Even on the streets the trials and judgments go on. People
see German girls in the employ of the occupation powers,
rouged, dressed, and marcelled according to a different taste and
with strange-looking faces. The judge within us begins to strug-
gle with human contempt and is tempted to hiss cynically,
But again the opposite judgment comes into play and puts us
in the dock; for the girls reply, "Don't you see the tremendous
excess of women over men; don't you see that we are afraid
we are going to miss out? Don't you see that we are doomed
to hopelessness because the men who would have been our hus-
bands are lying dead on the battlefields? Don't you understand
that we too yearn for fulfillment, that we too would like to have
a little of the carefreeness and fun and a few of the pretty things
that you older people enjoyed? Who puts us in this situation?
We accuse those who murdered our happiness, we are not crim-
inals, we are victims; so stop condemning us when we look for a
little happiness in these miserable times, a happiness which you
had yourself and which you cheated us out of."
In all this judging, then, who should listen to whom? Who is
to blame, the murderer or the murdered? A terrible uncertainty
has come over the world since it has become a house of judg-
ment. We face the utter bankruptcy of judgment: "Judge not,
that you be not judged!" And God knows we are beginning to
understand something of the wretchedness of judging. We begin
to see with a horrible clarity that human censure and judgment
can never right the wrong but only increases it. It immediately
and automatically evokes a counterjudgment. It is subject to the
terrible law of retaliation.
THE JUDGE ACCUSED 151
Why is it, then, that this curse that Jesus unmistakably points
to here rests upon all human judgments?
All human judgment always has a touch of egoism. When I
judge I put myself above the other person and imagine that I
am better than he. This is the secret pharisaism that dwells by
nature in the judge. In judging I elevate myself and seek to put
the other person down. And therefore the judgment never helps
him, but only embitters and hardens him. He often feels when
it comes to this natural form of judging that he is being sub-
jected not to justice but rather to the egoism and self-confidence
of the one who is judging. It is no wonder, then, that some
downright brutal forms of judgment are hidden behind human
So we prick up our ears when Jesus speaks of the curse of
judging. We sense that this saying is a redeeming and liberating
message in the judgment-house world in which we live.
And we should be lacking in common sense if the following
doubt did not occur to us. It is true, we reflect, that there is
a curse upon judging; but is not the opposite of judgment, is not
"consistent mercy" equally impossible? Can the world really be
ruled with forgiveness and love, instead of the hard law of retri-
bution and punishment? Would not this lead to frightful laxity,
to the breakdown of all order, and then would not evil be un-
bridled and uncontrollable? Should we counsel the allied powers
not to condemn the Third Reich and tell them to point out
the log in their own eye? Should we turn around and our-
selves start judging pharisaically, telling them that they have "no
right" to condemn us and that they have reason enough to let
mercy be accounted for justice?
In our study of Jesus' sayings concerning loving one's enemies
we have already been confronted with the same kind of ques-
tion. And we saw that it would be a complete misunderstand-
ing of what our Lord said to interpret his prohibition of judg-
ment as a license for laxity and indecision. Jesus calls evil evil
152 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
and good good, and he is utterly radical about it. Could there
be any sharper condemnation than his reference to the swine
before whom one should not cast has pearls, or his division of
men into sheep and goats* We should be going in a completely
wrong direction if we were to interpret Jesus' call to mercy
"sentimentally." Jesus is by no means speaking here against the
jurists, judges, and public prosecutors. He is not speaking against
the stern law of legal order or legal sanctions. He is concerned
about something else altogether.
He is opposing human judgment in every case in which we
attempt to anticipate the final judgment of God and thus forget
that every one of us (from the Nuremberg court, to lowest mag-
istrate's hearing) is on his way to the Last Judgment. That is
to say, when we forget that one day all of us must stand before
the judgment seat of God, when we imagine that we ourselves
are sitting in unimpeachable majesty on that judgment seat, then
there comes into our judging the tone of self-righteousness and
presumption. Then we are forgetting the log m our own eye.
Then the person who is being condemned immediately feels
that he should not be treated in this way. Then he knows that
the judge has no right to sit on his high horse, in other words,
that it is not "just" for him to speak to us from that level. He
therefore becomes embittered and resists. He feels that he is
at the mercy of a judge who no longer recognizes that he him-
self is a sinful man in need of forgiveness, who is no longer m
ultimate solidarity with him, the accused; but rather feels that
he is facing the hypocritical madness of some voice from heaven.
So again and again it happens that the old Nazis, for example,
are simply hardened in their attitude, instead of being led to the
conversion which is so urgently needed. All too often, and un-
fortunately all too often rightly, they sense that those who point
the finger of judgment at them, or even those who have to judge
them because it is their vocation to do so, manifest so precious
little realization that every one of us, including the professional
THE JUDGE ACCUSED 153
judge, is under judgment, that we have all made compromises,
kept silent, and all have a terrible log in our own eye. They
cannot help becoming embittered when now the finger of judg-
ment is pointed at them even by those who were prevented from
going along with the enthusiasm and vitality of that disastrous
movement only by their own laziness, small-mindedness, and
lack of spirit (and therefore not at all because they were deter-
mined to obey God more than men).
And it is precisely this kind of judging that our Lord forbids
us, this judging as if we were sitting on God's throne, where no
man dares to sit, but before which every man must appear. He
who dares to say, "I have no sin," or even acts as if this were so,
is claiming that he is carrying out God's ultimate judgment;
then he is practicing idolatry and is only driving the rift deeper
into the world's foundations.
But then what good are all these statements to us? What
good to us is the Savior's saying that this blasphemous judging
is loaded with a curse? What good is this when every day we
see the house of judgment becoming more and more a madhouse
and thus a monstrous illustration of the very thing that Jesus
was talking about* What good is all this to us when we do not
even know how to get away from it in our own small selves? For
it is certainly true that this is where it has to begin. There is
no getting around it, for it is written on every page of the Bible:
all die evil in the world comes out of my heart, my apostasy, my
disobedience. So first things have to be set straight here, at this
tiny little point in the great wide world.
Then our very simple, practical question is this: Does Jesus
have something helpful to say on this constructive side of the
problem at this crucial point* And not only something to say;
does he have something to give, which only he can give and
with which he drives a breach into the dark wall of judgment
and leads us out into the open where we can breathe the fresh
air of God's world again?
154 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
To catch something of this healing power in the words of the
Savior listen to the second verse: "For with the judgment you
pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will
be the measure you get."
What a terrible threat that is! For who can stand if he him-
self is subjected to the unmerciful standards that he applies to
But we must stop and listen to this saying of the Savior as it
sounds coming from his mouth. We must listen to it remember-
ing that it is he, and not somebody else, who is saying it to us;
remembering that he who is saying this to us is he who came to
us in the name of forgiveness and not of judgment, he who in
great love shed his blood for us. Then suddenly there rises up
behind the terrible threat a totally different saying, which we see
emerging like a lovely kernel from the dark shell, and then what
it says is the exact opposite of the threat "for with the judg-
ment by which you are judged you too should judge and the
measure you are given should also be the measure you give."
Surely we know the measure by which we are measured; it is the
measure of mercy, the measure of infinite compassion, the meas-
ure of the sacrifice that was made for us on the Cross. We are
the debtors (exactly as in the parable!), to whom everything
has been given, even though the judgment must demand and did
demand payment down to the last penny (Matt. 18.21-35). And
what these words mean, then, is that we must not be unmerciful
servants who mount the high horse over against their neighbor
after they themselves have just been lifted out of the mire.
Once we understand who it is that is uttering this prohibition
of judgment, and that on his lips it is far more than a legalistic
prohibition, that it points to the fact that we ourselves (you and
I!) have been spared the judgment and are nothing less than par-
doned sinners, then the Lord's threat ("the measure you give will
be the measure you get") takes on an even more dreadful mean-
ing. For then what it means is this: if you go on judging others,
THE JUDGE ACCUSED 155
despite the fact that I your Savior bring forgiveness to you, then
you are placing yourselves outside of my grace and outside the
consequences that this has for your own relationship to your
neighbor. Then you are simply putting yourself back on the
level of calculation and retribution, and therefore you yourself
will be the first victim of your attitude. If you want judgment
despite all the grace of God, then ask for it; you can have it.
But when it comes back at you and hits you yourself, then do
not come back and say, "That's not the way I meant it and
wanted it, I wanted it to apply only to my neighbor." Don't
you see that your neighbor (the person who has wronged you,
who censures you pharisaically,) is also called to accept the for-
giveness of the Cross, that I died for him too?
Then how can the blessing which you refuse him be given to
you? You can determine the level on which you are going to
stand, the level of judgment or of grace; and whichever you
choose will decide how you are going to deal with your neighbor
(not your Platonic assurances about whether you take a Christian
point of view or have some sympathy for the church). And this
level which you have chosen and which reveals itself in your
relationship to your neighbor will also determine how God ap-
proaches you, whether as the judge, who puts you to silence, or as
the Crucified, to whom you may cry, "Have mercy upon me."
Hence we should be completely misunderstanding the Lord if
we were to interpret what he says against the spirit of judgment
as meaning that now we must choke down, suppress, and repress
every such thought that rises up in us. Jesus has no desire to
make moralists out of us. He is not interested in our becoming
people whose hearts are full of malicious thoughts but who
assiduously train themselves not to let them come out and be-
come acts. This leads only to hypocrisy and self -poisoning. For
evil thoughts which are merely repressed go on rumbling about
in the heart, poisoning the imagination and troubling one's
dreams. Besides, Jesus would not have needed to die for this
156 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
kind of moral training. After all, his purpose was not to help
us to achieve repression; he wanted to deliver, redeem, and
So when we catch ourselves judging a girl for running around
in the way we referred to we should remember that God grieves
for this girl and that Jesus was thinking of her too when he
cried, "It is finished." And if we have an associate who keeps
deviling us because he grudges us our position and success, and
we are tempted to become cynical, we ought to stop right there
and ask ourselves what dark thoughts would rise in ovr minds if
ive were in this situation, the black impulses of jealousy and hate
that we know are in our own hearts; and that Jesus nevertheless
has called us to himself and bestowed his mercy upon us. Then
quite of itself (and I know what I am talking about) it turns
out that I do not even need to fight with my urge to judge; for
it is conquered by a higher hand. Then quite of itself, quite
spontaneously, there flows from my heart a stream of compas-
sion. And there you have a miracle, like the miracle God per-
formed when Moses smote the hard rock where none suspected
there was saving water and the rock opened and the bubbling,
springing wonder occurred. I need only open my own heart,
this hard rock, to the stream of divine love and compassion and
quite of itself it will flow on in a thousand rivulets; not because
my own heart has suddenly acquired such peculiar virtues (it
remains a wicked and desperate thing), but because this divine
stream has great power; it seeks to flow through my heart and
out of it again to others, and all the evil spirits of judgment and
vexation must be drowned in it every day.
Then, too, there is something else that is taken care of "quite
of itself," and that is that this compassion will not degenerate
into something merely soft and lax in the sense of that stupid
maxim, "To understand all is to pardon all." Who could have
greater understanding than the omniscient God? Did he pardon
THE JUDGE ACCUSED 157
all because he understood everything so well, because he knew
the motives and the background of the deed?
The writer of Psalm 139, for one, did not hold this opinion.
He drew quite the opposite conclusion. He saysr-and it is
obvious that he says it with every sign of horror that it is a
terrible thing to face the fact God knows my every thought and
word and deed, that he "understands" all these things. The
psalmist in any case does not say: Because thou understandest
all, thou wilt also pardon all. What he says is just the oppo-
site: Because thou understandest all, therefore thou pursuest
me; therefore there is nothing I can hide from thee, there is no
darkness where thy judgment does not find me out.
No, we are not to pardon all because we understand all. This
would not be doing a favor to that demoralized girl or that
resentful associate of yours. I might rather talk to them face
to face, I might perhaps rebuke them and tell them off. But the
point is that I would do this altogether differently from before.
Now I would censure and judge them out of compassion and
the other person would know that I was doing this as one who
has himself stood under judgment without the slightest shred of
a defense and escaped it only because of God's grace and Christ's
cross, and therefore stands on the same level with him, in the
solidarity of the condemned and pardoned, and therefore as one
who has a helpful, positive, liberating message to speak to him.
In this mad world of judgment and recrimination the helpful
message can be proclaimed only by those who do not sit on the
judgment seat of God, only by those who themselves stand before
that judgment, who have broken down before it, but then have
suddenly seen in the lineaments of the Judge the face of the
Father of their Savior, Jesus Christ.
The truth is that in the discipleship of his Lord a Christian
grows ever more compassionate, because he learns to know his
own heart ever more deeply and because under the power of for-
158 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
giveness he also grows ever more free and courageous to see him-
self as he is without any illusions about himself. And therefore,
because he has seen the log in his own eye and gotten rid of it,
he may attempt to take the speck out of his neighbor's eye. This
takes sensitive and compassionate hands. And it also requires that
one should have oneself experienced the pain and the relief that
cornes when a foreign body is removed from this most sensitive
organ. Only those who have themselves been wounded can bind
up wounds. Only those who have themselves experienced for-
giveness bear healing powers in this world. They bring their
brethren out of the evil, suffocating air of the judgment hall
into the out-of-doors where one can breathe and where God's sun
shines upon the evil and the good. And only when a man has
begun to breathe this new atmosphere does he begin to realize
what a dreadful thing it is, not only to be everlastingly judged
and accused, but also to be driven by the constant compulsion
to judge and criticize, constantly to be subject to the desperate
need to hold on to the mane of one's high horse, so as not to fall
off and let people see what a miserable creature one is after all.
And this leads us to one last subtle point in this abundant text.
Here in Jesus' words the fault is described as a log or a speck
and this obviously means that it is a "foreign body," that some-
thing has invaded man's most sensitive organ. He who cannot
distinguish between the organ itself and that which is foreign in
it is not a skillful doctor or pastor of souls.
But look: this is the way that Jesus always looked upon people.
When he met the harlot, the publican, the wretch, and also
the possessed and the mentally ill, this is what he knew: this is
not at all the real man, the person as he came from God's fatherly
hand; something alien has entered into him and I must distin-
guish between tie fundamental reality and the alien thing in him.
For him even the worst of men was not corrupt through and
through, but rather a child of God who had been overtaken by
THE JUDGE ACCUSED 159
something alien to himself and whose disfiguring moral sores
were to be attributed to a "foreign body" within him. Therefore
all of these healings are actually "expulsions," exorcisms, as is
most clearly evident in the stories of the demon-possessed. They
are separations of the real from the alien; they are operations in
which a "foreign body" is removed.
And as soon as the sick and guilty felt Jesus' eyes looking
upon them in this way they began to grow well. There was
something special about his eyes. This is not meant sentimentally
at all, but very realistically. The point is that they sensed at once
that Jesus saw the "real" person within them, that he was not
subject to the optical illusion to which we men are always suc-
cumbing. We look at people as if they were one big "speck,"
not seeing the "eye" at all; whereas Jesus saw first and foremost
the eye, saw the child who had gone wrong. And because the
publicans, the harlots, and the possessed saw this and realized:
"Jesus Christ sees us, he sees the real person in us, he sees that we
are children, that we are loved, that God cares for us" they
grew well. Nobody had ever looked at them in that way before.
When we become disciples of Jesus our eye is changed too.
It changes not only in the sense that the log is removed but also
in the sense that now it sees different things and sides of these
things that it never saw before. Now it no longer sees only the
speck in the other's eye but the eye itself, in which God created
his royal image. It sees not only the harlot in the girl the speck
but rather the mourned, unhappy child. It sees not only the
venomous schemer in the bad associate or denouncer, but rather
the human being who is called to live in the royal freedom of a
child of God but prefers to live in the slavery of his hatred; it
sees the one who has been bought with the price of blood and
is in danger of losing his costliness.
The man who is given this gift of sight stops judging because he
has been blessed with seeing something else than the speck. And
he sees the miracles of God's love that would flourish every-
160 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
where if only <we were not forcibly preventing them by our
unmercifulness and our judging spirit.
A Christian is a person who sets out to discover children of
God and then finds them everywhere. True, he too will see the
specks, for love makes one sharp-sighted; it notes the smallest
changes in the one it loves. But love, which has itself gone
through the saving operation, discovers the speck in order to
help remove it with gentle hand; it does not discover the speck
in order to exult and forget the log in its own eye.
Jesus Christ makes all things new, not only our hearts but
also our eyes. The world quite literally looks different for those
who see it in this light. And it not only looks different, it
becomes different. Through atom bombs it is merely held in
check, but secretly the abysses are opening up within it. Through
the renewal of hearts and eyes, however, it is redeemed and re-
newed. We have our life by virtue of this miracle. And we
must hold still for God that this miracle may happen in us and
thus let the healing powers of our Redeemer flow into this dark
and fevered world.
An Elementary Course in Faith
"Ask, and it will be given you, seek, and you will find; knock, and
it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he
who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what
man of you, if his son asks him for a loaf, will give him a stone'
Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent' If you then, who
are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much
more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those
who ask him' So whatever you wish that men would do to you,
do so to them, for this is the law and the prophets."
A person must surely be dull of mind and hard of heart if
he does not catch the fresh breeze of realism that blows upon us
from the first verse of this text.
It simply and tersely tells us that we should ask, seek, and
knock. If we do this, we are assured in these brief, lapidary
terms, that certain things will happen: what is asked will be given,
what is sought will be found, the door on which we knock will
be opened. And what it says is: now do this, just try it!
In other words, when there is a wish to come into contact
with God, a wish to gain "peace," or even to catch a hint that
somebody there on the other end of the line is listening to
me and is interested in me all this is not a matter of instituting
some great thought processes. It is not a matter of deliberating,
162 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
for example, the arguments for and against there being somebody
there who rules the world and has a heart for me. Nor is it a
matter of feeling, of being in a prayerful mood or of being at
some special turning point in my life, such as welcoming back
from imprisonment the person I love most or receiving notice
of his death. It is not a matter of being deeply moved by a
concert or the touching good-night prayer of a little child that
puts me into a devout mood for prayer. Nothing at all comes
from such considerations, and these feelings trickle away in the
sober reality of the next hour.
No, this is rather a matter of doing something, of our being
presented with a clearly defined and utterly simple task, namely,
to ask, to seek, and to knock.
When we face a great task, let us say, the establishment of
a business, the writing of a book, or the beginning of a course
of study, we may easily be overwhelmed by faintheartedness,
for suddenly all the problems that will have to be mastered seem
to concentrate at one point. Then the questions arise: where am
I going to get space and facilities for the business, where can I
secure sufficient working capital, and if I do get hold of all these
things, who knows whether it will succeed anyhow? After all,
in a time of chaos and crisis like this, my own energy and initia-
tive is the smallest factor. Other factors may enter in, changed
currency situations may upset all my calculations, and the whole
world situation may change.
When I stop to think of all these things my initiative may well
shrivel into a heap of misery and discouragement.
The exact same thing can happen when I approach the very
great task of straightening out my relationship to God. I really
want to do this, for I am so restless and dissatisfied; my life has
no center; my work, even when it is successful, seems to me to
be a threshing of empty straw; there is no blessing, no grace,
and therefore no joy. So for this reason, if for no other, I want
AN ELEMENTARY COURSE IN FAITH 163
to straighten out the foundation of my life, gain contact with
the Father, find peace in the midst of rash and restlessness.
But then all the difficulties that stand in the way loom up be-
fore my eyes. Will I be able to stick out this Christian life ?
Will I be able to muster up the self-discipline to set aside each
day the necessary time and concentration to talk with God and
listen to him ? Will I not be able to manage and manipulate
more easily a lot of things in my life if I do not have to face
the eyes of divine majesty every day? Would it not be easier
simply to follow my own fragile conscience which is always
inclined to be lenient and can always be brought around to agree
to dubious enterprises^ And then the main thing, is the real
and ultimate assumption correct at all? Does God exist at all?
May it not be that all the religious hardships I have taken on in
my life are based upon sand and illusions and therefore have
been done for nothing at all?
We all know what such thoughts are and how discouraging
they can be. And now it is just as if Jesus had caught us in the
midst of such anxious thoughts; for right from the start he gives
us the effective remedy for them.
What he is saying is that when you are facing a task that is
too big for you, the best thing to do is to divide it into small
sections or stages of work; then at once the whole thing will
look different. It is just this kind of division of labor that he is
talking about here. Your task, says Jesus, is to ask, seek, and
knock. God's task is to answer, let himself be found, and open
the door. So you simply have no cause to worry at all. You
do not need to be nervous about whether God really has the
power, whether he really knows your need, whether your peti-
tion has really reached his ear. God has guaranteed all this.
This should not and need not be your worry.
Indeed, we could reduce the gospel to this brief formula: it
teaches us everything we do not need to worry about/ We need
not worry about whether we shall be saved. We need not worry
164 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
about whether we gain peace. We need not worry about know-
ing what is coming, about whether some way out of this utterly
hopeless looking political situation of ours will be found. None
of this is our concern; all this has been taken care of ever since
it pleased God to become our brother in Jesus Christ and to
share our destiny in suffering, dying, and rising again. From
now to the end of days this Jesus Christ wills to slumber and
be with us in our little ship as the waves run high. It is simply
not our concern whether we survive the waves and reach the
Last Day. This is all taken care of by him who slumbers in our
ship and in whose hand the ocean is but a quiet pool.
So, too, it is not ours to find out all the theoretical answers
to the problem of prayer; ours is simply to ask. This is not
something to be pondered, but practiced. With Jesus we are
always sent immediately to work. And as we do the work, as
we pray, we learn what it is all about. It is exactly the same
as an experiment that we have to make you must try prayer and
then try it again and again.
Jesus, of course, is not speaking of this experiment of prayer
as would a researcher who is making this experiment for the
first time, a scientist, for example, who is experimenting with
atomic destruction for the first time and does not know how
it will turn out, since the laws of nature involved here are still
to be revealed in the experiment. Jesus is rather speaking of
the experiment of prayer as a teacher who has already performed
the experiment a hundred times, who not only knows the natural
laws of the kingdom of God which are at work in it, but, as it
were, sees them from the inside and therefore knows very well
how it will turn out. That is to say, it will turn out that he who
asks will receive abundantly and that to him who knocks the
heavy door of divine mysteries will open.
In all this, of course, one dare not forget the person who is
uttering these words. For all these laws hold good only on this
one assumption, that Jesus Christ be present. Not only because
AN ELEMENTARY COURSE IN FAITH 165
he said it and because he is an authority dare we risk the experi-
ment of prayer, but really because he is present. Who is he,
then> Well, on one occasion he called himself the way to the
Father and on another occasion he said he was the door to the
fellowship and thus to the Father. So there is a way to the
Father, and life is not merely a pathless jungle of creeping vines,
nightmare sounds, strange voices, and anxious dread. So in him
there is a door, and not merely the great black wall of hope-
lessness against which we are constantly running. And because,
and only because, this way and this door ts there, is prayer pos-
sible. And therefore prayer is always made consciously or un-
consciouslyin the name of Jesus. And therefore even the idea
of experiment finally cancels itself out. For an experiment is
always a carefully considered, methodically pursued question
addressed to nature, in which the answer may confirm but may
also negate my expectations. But here the answer is there before
the question is asked, the way is there before the search begins,
the door is there before the knocking starts.
In Jesus Christ everything is already bestowed upon you: the
peace, the answer, the blessedness, the fellowship with the Father.
Now it depends only on your discovering it, or better, on your
accepting it, on your not quitting, but availing yourself of the
way and using the door. All the rest is none of your concern.
Everything has been taken care of, and you may be sure, by the
very fact that you have begun, that you have already been found.
And therefore you can joyfully seek and resolutely knock, for
unless you do this there can be no opening of the door.
But I already suspect what you are going to say to this. You
will say, and you will in fact be expressing an experience which
is shared by pagans and the disciples of Jesus alike, "Haven't
we all knocked hundreds of times? Everybody has tried to pray
at some time or other, even the mockers, the skeptics, and the
atheists. But never did we hear anybody saying 'Come in.' There
166 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
was nothing but terrible silence and I heard nothing. Why,
then, should anybody go on knocking? Why should these peo-
ple who stand in the subway stations, whose faces are so weary
and empty, go on knocking? Even those who are gathered here
this morning, do any of them really go on knocking? We have
'heard' that silence behind the door so often that we know very
well what happens: nothing. We heard nothing but our own
breathing and our own words."
We mentioned before what Rilke said in one of his letters
about this telephone called Jesus in which people are always
calling "Hello, who is there?" and nobody answers.
But I ask you, when we do this have we really lifted the
receiver and dialed the right number? Or have we merely dialed
ourselves? For then, of course, we hear only a hum.
This means, in other words, that we dial ourselves when in our
prayers we think only of ourselves, only of the things we want,
the bread, the promotion, the return of our missing son, the
shortage of goods we need so badly, and thus do not think of
who it is we intend to speak with here, and that properly we
should leave the ways and means to his boundless mercy, his
omnipotence, and his higher wisdom. But when this happens
our prayer cannot break away from the spell of self-concern,
then it never gets beyond the ceiling, then we hear only the
derisive humming, but never those relieving, cheering words,
"Here I am, my child."
So this knocking and calling is a very peculiar and special
thing. But there are not only people who have stopped knocking
because they did it wrongly and therefore never heard the words
"Come in!"; there are also other people who hold the firm
opinion that there is no need for such a thing as knocking.
These are the so-called religious people. In order, for example,
to experience God in nature or in a Beethoven symphony, of
course I do not need to knock on the door or do anything else
of the kind. All I have to do is to leap into the fullness of God,
AN ELEMENTARY COURSE IN FAITH 167
because it is everywhere, in every tree, in every sparkling wave,
in every mountain glow, in every measure of the immortal music.
"Like a rushing through primitive mountains" this religious per-
son (says Rilke in the letter referred to above) breaks through
to the one God who so generously allows us to speak with him
every morning, ivithoitt any need for this "telephone called
Christ," and we might add, without any need for knocking first
or entering a door.
I mention this not because I want for the moment to talk to
those outside these windows and criticize the outsiders. No, I
do so because this look outside the windows (which is really
a look at our own selves) gives us a real lead to the special
meaning of what Jesus says here about "knocking." For, after
all, knocking at the door is a sign of respect. It indicates that I
do not have the right simply to "walk in," that I do not have the
same rights here that I have in my own home, where I can go
in and come out as I please without knocking. For when I have
to knock before I enter, say at the door of an office or someone
else's home, this is where another person's castle, another per-
son's territory or sovereignty begins; here I dare not simply walk
in; I must stop and knock first.
And this is precisely what is meant by this reference to knock-
ing in our text. You cannot have access to God quite so cheaply
as nature, where all I have to do is walk in. It is by no means
a foregone conclusion that I may enter. For God is holy and
I should be consumed beneath his gaze if I were to enter into
his presence with unclean lips and unclean hands (and what
have they not said and done!). But the fact that I can enter,
the fact that I need not be consumed in his presence, the fact
that I can sit at table with him as a friend and honored guest all
this I owe to him who opened the door for me and is himself the
way to God's presence.
This, surely, is just the opposite of any kind of natural, self-
evident access to God. It is a miracle, the miracle of God's good
168 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
heart. It is the miracle of that love that gave its only begotten
Son and shed his blood for us, And the fact that I must first
stop and knock before I go in is a reminder of this miracle. For
he who waits within is not merely the "dear, kind God," but
the holy, living Majesty, who had to allow his most beloved
to be torn from his heart in order that I might be drawn to that
heart and taste his peace. The fact that I must first knock re-
minds me of the distance that separates me from the holy God,
of all the suffering, the shed blood, and the Goss that had to be
endured that I might have this access, that now makes it possible
for me to enter and share the joy and fulfillment of the Father.
So knocking on the door is a sign of the miracle: the miracle
that there is a door, that there is One who is the door, and that
I may enter and speak with the Father.
There are certain doors, especially in government offices, that
have on them a sign that says, "Enter, do not knock." If you
enter, you usually find yourself in an empty anteroom or an
unoccupied corridor. So there is nobody there who sets any value
on his privacy. And this brings us again to the so-called religious
person, within ourselves and in others, who does not recognize
the zone of divine majesty, but simply strolls about in his non-
committal religious freedom. This is the kind of person who
indulges in a bit of religious thrill over a lovely sunset, or enjoys
quite incidentally and without ever committing himself as a
believer the prickling thrill of witnessing a mass or some other
ritual act; he may even have some appreciation of sacred places
and the St. Matthew Passion. But he passes through them ulti-
mately untouched. He has discovered a vogue word for this
"not knocking," a word frequently used by the so-called ex-
istentialists and the intellectuals in the big cities: "I am my free-
dom," says Orestes in Sartre's famous play The Flies. What this
means is this: "I do not need to knock; the world belongs to me
and not to God. The world is my game preserve, nobody can
touch me, punish me, command me, or limit me."
AN ELEMENTARY COURSE IN FAITH 169
But this "free man," who regards every door as being marked
"Enter, do not knock," pays a price for this nonchalance, this
arrogant charging through every door. He pays for his usurpa-
tion of the whole world, not only in that he plunges into the
catastrophe of the utterly uninhibited and brutal superman (and
we know from our own bitter experience what that means), but
he also pays for it in that he can no longer find the real, the
right door, and is doomed to go wandering about in empty ante-
rooms and bleak, dark corridors where nobody is to be found.
Here he enjoys his freedom, a freedom which is so dreadful
because it exists only in this icy no man's land. He is banished
to a strangling solitariness in which he no longer has contact with
anyone or anything. This is the ghastly hallmark of a humanity
that no longer knocks, that no longer knows a door behind which
someone is waiting for us.
And it is no accident that this same philosophy of existential-
ism, that lives by this slogan "Enter, do not knock," also possesses
a dreadful key word by which it describes the fundamental feeling
that characterizes this fatherless man wandering through the
dark corridors; it is the word "anxiety."
In the world we have anxiety this is the only saying of Jesus
people still repeat. We have anxiety, because he who overcame
the world is no longer with us. But this last clause is no longer
repeated; it has been forgotten.
I think we Christians should have more compassion upon our
fellow human beings who live in such fear of the world and at
the same time rave about their freedom. We should intercede
for them with the Father far oftener and far more fervently,
since we are so fortunate as to know the door that opens day
by day as we knock upon it, giving us access to joy and peace
with him. Is it not like waking from a sad dark dream to be
told that there is a door at which we may knock and that some-
one is waiting for us there^ Is it then really a restraint upon
170 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
our freedom that we must stop before we enter the door and
not merely walk in? Is it a restraint that then we are really
received as children and friends and can be "at home'' in the
house of the Father? Is it really a curb upon us that there we
are under the eye and the discipline of the Father, giving obedi-
ence to him? Is this restraint? Or is it not rather the glorious
freedom of the children of God that we should be permitted to
do this? That someone is there who sacrificed and suffered all
things for us and now expects that we shall not throw away
this dearly purchased dignity? That someone is there who takes
away from us the fear and the loneliness of those dark, endless
corridors and brings us into the festal hall of Christian life and
Is there any greater joy than this-that we may knock and it
will be opened to us and that there is someone there waiting
for you and for me? Is there any greater joy than this that this
should simply be true?
But the door that opens to us and beyond which we find the
Father does not merely lead us into a secluded room where
nothing goes on except beatific conversation and devout delight.
The end of all this is not merely that state that lovers seek where
two can be alone and away from the world.
No, here at once we are put to work again. Here too there is
something to do, something to be put into practice; for there
can be no relationship with the Father that does not also include
a relationship with our neighbor. A prayer that does not include
my neighbor and brother (the nihilistic fellow, for example, who
no longer knocks and must wander through the dark corridors)
is not a prayer. And a service of worship which is not at the
same time a service to my brethren is not service of God, but
merely opium and pious titillation. Then God has no desire to
hear the solemn phrases of such prayers, the droning sound of
even the great Reformation hymns, and the recitation of even
the most correct sermons. So it cannot be otherwise; the vision
AN ELEMENTARY COURSE IN FAITH 171
of our neighbor must immediately appear before us: "What-
ever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them."
Perhaps now you may think: Well, there's nothing so special
about that. You do not need this Jesus of Nazareth to know this
commandment and to act according to it. Isn't this merely say-
ing what all of us know by nature: "What you do not want
others to do to you, do not do to them"?
But I should like to ask you this: Do not Jesus' words about
our neighbor mean something altogether different? Something
that one can understand only if again one keeps strictly in mind
who it is that is saying this, in other words, only if one sees in
every word of the Sermon on the Mount the preacher of it?
That is to say, what I wish from other people and should then
apply to them too (namely, this love, this regard for them as
persons, this acceptance of them as neighbors) is the very thing
that is given its deepest stamp by what was done to me by Jesus
Christ. Here a heart turns in love toward me, though I lift up
my hand against him. Here one loves me, though I am not worth
loving. Here one regards me with honor, though I am dust and
ashes, a nobody, before him. Here I am bought with a great
price, though I have frittered away my dignity. And ever since
that happened to me I know that a man can live only because he
is loved, only because the great miracle has happened that made
God become his Father. Nothing else deserves to be called Me.
It is nothing but lost motion and dreary desolation, a paltry,
piteous wandering through dark corridors. When a man has
forgotten that he is the apple of God's eye, that he is loved and
purchased at great price, his life loses its infinite value. Then
he asks only how men can be used, whether they contribute any-
thing to society, whether they represent productive labor forces
or not. And when they no longer have this utility, they are
thrown on the scrap heap, liquidated, abandoned to hunger.
All that we have experienced in this respect in our own midst
and all that we hear from our brethren beyond the Iron Curtain
172 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
is an illustration of this utter self-degradation of the man who no
longer knows that he is loved and therefore has lost the meaning
and value of his life.
Only he who knows that his neighbor is the apple of God's
eye really respects his inviolability. He who forgets this violates
his neighbor and merely turns him into fair game. And the
dreadful catastrophe of humanity today is nothing less than a
sign that we no longer see our fellow human beings under the
love of God and its holy protection.
"Whatever you wish that men should do to you, do so to
Do we know now what men should do to us? Do we know
what we should do to our brothers? Everything that we wish for
ourselves and also should do to our brothers can only be a reflec-
tion and a passing on of what we have received from Jesus Christ.
What did we receive from him? We learned that there is One
whose fatherly heart is open to us and that, no matter what hap-
pens, we are his beloved children. We learned that we are not
orphans, left lonely and forlorn in this brutal world, but that
we have a home, our Father's house, where we can knock on
the door and know that we will be received with rejoicing like
the son who came back from the far country.
But all this was accomplished by him who does not leave us
desolate, but will abide with us, our way, our door, our brother,
To him be glory, praise, and thanksgiving!
Venturing the Harder Road
"Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the way is easy,
that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For
the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those
who find it are few." Matthew 7:13-14
Since the collapse of our country at the end of the war it
has so happened that I have talked with many people with widely
differing views of life, ages, and professions concerning the real
cause of our collapse. Uniformly, the conversation moved to-
ward the ultimate questions of life itself. For I did not find a
single serious-minded person who did not feel obliged to look
for the ultimate causes of the repeated world catastrophes and
collapses in very deep-seated crises, indeed, in the so-called reli-
gious crises of modern man, or at least to surmise that part of
the cause lay here. The universal diagnosis was that mankind
had thrown off all bonds of religious awe and now was not
happy with its freedom but was beginning more and more to
find it a curse.
In most of these conversations, however, an astonishing and
rather alarming fact becomes evident, and that is that so-called
Christianity is in danger of becoming a fad among us and that
people think that it is possible by means of a large-scale re-
Christianization to create a broad basis, a "wide and easy" way,
174 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
by which it is hoped that progress may be made. "Christian"
politics, "Christian" social order, "Christian" morality-these
might be the forces and structures that could cope with the
breakdown of honesty in tax returns, the breakdown of marriage,
the moral decay among our young people. All this might
provide a foundation or better, a "broad way" on which we
could make headway and expect a great new departure.
But this flight into Christianity, this resort to the ideology
of the Christian West, in other words, this attempt to lay out a
"broad Christian way," is a highly dubious thing. For it has
nothing whatsoever to do with repentance and renewal and
therefore has nothing at all to do with the very thing which is
of central and decisive importance in the message of Jesus. It is
rather merely a form of religious panic. It is well, therefore, for
us to note right from the beginning that the "wide" way of
which our parable speaks is by no means merely the road where
gross sinners lurk, a highway inhabited by thieves, adulterers,
denunciators, and sluggards, but that the broad way can also be
staked out with road signs bearing Bible passages and words like
"eternity," "God," and "Christianity."
The conversations on these questions took pretty much the
same form. Thus, for example, in the discussion that followed
an address I made in a certain city concerning the German
catastrophe a young, very earnest and active businessman said
something like this (I quote it as representative of many others) :
"It is a good thing for once to have been able to hear a 'theo-
logian* speak about the causes of the collapse and the present
misery in the world. For, after all, the general breakdown in the
realm of morals, the breaking of international treaties, the general
uncertainty in the face of political threats, the rage for power,
imperialism-all this is due to the fact that statesmen, nations,
and individuals have ceased to respect the divine order. This
is why in my business I can no longer depend on my people as
my father and grandfather could. Everybody simply grabs at
VENTURING THE HARDER ROAD 175
whatever seems to give him an advantage at the moment. Brutal
self-interest is the order of the day. And anybody who does not
believe this has only to take a look at the battle that goes on in
an overcrowded streetcar. Therefore our world will never find
peace until we again respect the ultimate sacred values and laws.
But only Christianity can help us to do this. That is why I have
gone back to the church, even though personally, I do not know
much about its doctrines. But I recognize Christian morality,
the ideals of reverence and love; these are the only things that
can help us. Therefore we must go back to the 'Christian West.' "
The fairly mixed audience that listened to all this for the most
part nodded their heads in approval. Here was a decent, con-
genial man. He was really in earnest about it. Undoubtedly he
had hit the nail on the head in many respects and they thought
it was to his credit that he, who had once left the church, should
make this public testimony.
And yet there is something wrong, something disturbing about
what he said. In the last analysis what he was saying was this:
now that the politicians and scientists have landed us in this cruel
wilderness with their modern philosophies, now we'll have to
resort to the Christian ideology!
Did not the devil in the hour of temptation also offer the Lord
Christ the kingdoms of this world? That is to say, did he not
propose that Jesus Christ should lend his name, his personality,
his teachings as a program for reconstruction and constitution
for a great world government* "Your Christianity, Jesus of
Nazareth," said the devil, "your Christianity as a political ide-
ology and foundation for a whole culture, an undergirding
philosophy for art and science, would provide a broad road on
which everybody could travel. After all, you're too good to
die on a cross. You've got what it takes to rule the world. You
have a program, Jesus of Nazareth. And here I am, offering you
the world in which you can realize it"
We know how Jesus replied to this offer of the devil. We
176 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
know that this was just what it was to him an offer of the devil!
Could not this devil, who is able to disguise himself as an angel
of light, also be assuming the mask of the serious man who talks
so convincingly and effectively in a discussion of the Christian
West that goes on today?
And the reason why we have the uncomfortable feeling that
there is something not quite right, something fishy about those
words of the young man suddenly became clear when in this
same discussion another young man took the floor and delivered
himself of this passionate outburst:
"The previous speaker is certainly right in saying that all the
mischief is due to the fact that we have broken away from the
eternal foundations. But what good is that conclusion to me,
what good does it do our people and all of us? How can /, how
can yotiy how can all of us get back to those foundations? And
that means very practically," he passionately cried out in the
meeting, "how can 7 become a Christian 3 It is just eyewash to
talk in general terms about Christian points of view and Chris-
tian ideals. It doesn't help a single poor soul for me to say to
you, no matter how correct it may be: loyalty, honesty, respect
for law and the dignity of man can thrive only in a world that
has learned again to stand before God, to fear and love him, to
trust him, and to pray to him. But all of this helps me not one
bit, no matter how right it is, if I, personally, cannot believe in
this God. Then I still can't help to lay any Christian founda-
tions. In a month from now I expect to be married; shall I be
married as a Christian merely because I say to myself and I say
it just as sincerely and certainly as correctly as the previous
speaker that the general breakdown of marriage and our own
marriage difficulties will be remedied only if we get back to the
religious foundations? Shall I be married as a Christian even
though I cannot believe in this God, cannot believe in him even
though I know very well that I must believe in him, that all of
us must believe in him, if we really want to help our people and
VENTURING THE HARDER ROAD 177
our country? And therefore the real question for me, and I think
I speak for my whole searching generation: How can 7 be-
come that kind of a Christian, a personal Christian?"
Then he turned to me, the speaker of the evening, and said,
"You say that a man can become this only through Christ: 'no
one comes to the Father, but by me' but that's just the trouble,
I can't do it. I can't find that narrow gate, I can't find my way
through that bottleneck. And therefore all these wonderful
insights of the previous speaker about the ultimate causes of our
disaster and the so-called religious renewal of our people are of
no help to me at all, no matter how correct they may be."
When he had finished speaking I felt like saying to him, "You
are not far from the kingdom of God" (Mark 12: 3 1). This is
what the Lord Christ once said to another man who likewise had
spoken a very true word about love, without suspecting that this
love was present in him who was standing there before him and
that he must struggle with all his heart and soul to find him.
To be sure, it is not usual for a preacher to repeat such discus-
sions in a sermon, but my concern has been to discover the
point at which Jesus' saying about the narrow gate and the easy
way speaks to us in owr time and in our situation, the point
where it painfully rouses us out of our dreams and illusions, and
at the same time speaks to us comfort and promise.
And my conviction is that that young student put his finger
on exactly the right spot. It is true that Christianity is in danger
of becoming a kind of fad. People think it is necessary and
beneficial; they gush about the broad way of a revived Christian
West. The dogma of Christ the God-Man is, of course, medieval;
you can't expect to establish the broad base of modern humanity
on that. There is no power in that any more for leading the
broad masses of the people. But what Christianity calls the fear
of God, after it is worked over a bit and turned into "religious
reverence," this is something we have to revive again. And with-
178 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
out the Christian idea of love and humanity it wouldn't work
In what he said this young man made a thoroughly New
Testament observation: that without the person of the Savior
himself one cannot have this at all; that there is no such thing
as a broad road of general convictions that leads us to the Chris-
tian ideas of love, humanity, and reverence, no such thing as a
broad road on which everybody could somehow walk together
and get along with each other, orthodox and freethinkers, pietists
and idealists, enlightened intellectuals and conservative citizens,
and whoever else might be counted in the Christian West. He
observed perfectly correctly that one arrives at these Christian
ideas if we are going to use this horrible term only when one
has come to terms with Jesus Christ, only as one goes through
this very narrow gate and down this narrow road, and thus only
as one makes a decision, which means, when one does not do
what the majority do, but rather at the crossroads chooses to
take the narrow, lonely path with Jesus of Nazareth.
"I am the way," says that lonely man who died forsaken on
the Cross. This must be a very small and narrow thing. "I am
the way," say the Christian ideas that attract so many today.
"I am the gate," says the politics of Christian culture, says the
Christian West, says Christian-colored religiosity. But that may
well be an all too broad, an all too smooth, and all too polished
road; it might well lead to the abyss.
"No one comes to the Father, but by me" by me, through
me, the most lonely and despised of men, the man of sorrows
and death, crowned with thorns and spat upon. This is the nar-
row gate, the narrow way. This is the way, and this is the only
way, that I want to point out to the seekers and inquirers in this
hour, because this is what the Lord commands.
Well, what does this mean? It means, in the first place, that
when Jesus here contrasts the narrow and the broad way he is
demanding of us a decision. We dare not go on in the same old
VENTURING THE HARDER ROAD 179
jog trot of our daily work, in the chase after the paltry pleasures
we desire, a bit of love and the movies, a bit of good food and
progress m our job. Rather we must have a goal in view; we
must ask ourselves: What am I really living for and what must
I do to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17)?
Generally we human beings live according to the law of least
resistance, that is, we do what the majority does. We live pretty
much at random. And here the path of least resistance is called
the broad way. All of us are by nature on this road when we
go on living in society as such. And right here Jesus startles us
by calling us to halt. What matters is to find a very particular
entrance. And that's not comfortable. And the way that leads
to this entrance is uncomfortable and narrow. You simply can't
let yourself go wandering anywhere you please, because there is
an abyss on cither side of the path. By this he means to say that
the road of the Christian life is not a simple thing. Often it is
much more comfortable not to be a Christian. That way you will
get through this world of lies much easier, with fewer obstacles
and much less trouble of conscience, for in this world a Chris-
tian should be an exception, should live as a shining signal of
another kingdom. You will get ahead easier and with fewer
scruples in this world of brutality in which the Christian should
practice love, in this world of fear in which the Christian should
be a source of peace.
And if right from the start you don't want all this, you can't
walk this narrow road. At first Jesus is always a resistance to
us, always uncomfortable and inconvenient, always something
that says "Stop." And if we are not willing to admit this, we
falsify him and turn him into that soft, sweet Nazarene we see
in the sentimental pictures of him.
But this decision for him and the narrow way means not only
a parting from our previous path; it also means the willingness
simply to entrust ourselves to him and to let him lead us down
180 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
some utterly new, adventuresome, and strange roads. This deci-
sion also means parting from other persons. Jesus once uttered
the hard saying that the disciples must be prepared to leave even
father and mother; indeed, he was not afraid to use even the
word "hate" in this connection (Luke 14:26). And he also said
that disciples must also be prepared on their part to be hated
(Luke 6:22) otherwise they could not be disciples.
So discipleship means cross-bearing (Mark 8:34), persecution
(Matt. 5:10), and derision; and the more seriously we take our
discipleship the more we will get of it. The road leads through
a thousand deaths, through partings and loneliness, and often we
must let even the most beloved persons go, sensing that they
grow more distant and strange toward us. The great in the
kingdom of God all had to go through blood and tears and
So to begin with, Christ is not the one who would win the
Christian West and the masses for his ideals, overarching them
all like a unifying myth. Indeed, he never has been with the
masses and the many; he avoided them and went to the people
who were lonely and forsaken in their guilt and their need, the
people who really could not help him to win the world and or-
ganize propaganda campaigns on a big, broad scale. In the first
place at any rate, he stands like a pier in the stream of men and
nations, separating the floods and allowing them to surge high
and angrily upon it.
And the fact is that every one of us, drops as we are in those
waves, must pass by that pier. There is no smooth sailing along
in the stream of life since this pier, Jesus Christ, has been erected
in the midst of our world. It takes us through decision and sepa-
ration, through death and loneliness; in any case, it does not flow
through the humdrum channel of the crowd.
And through this loneliness all men who have encountered
him have had to go. From the beginning the church was the
community of solitaries, the community of those who were
VENTURING THE HARDER ROAD 181
"called out," of those who first stood in ultimate loneliness
before his eyes.
Who were they? Well, there were the people who were in-
vited to the marriage feast (Matt. 22:2-10). They were called
away from their fields and oxen, even from newly married wives;
they were obliged to leave off from their business, their voca-
tion, everything that filled their minds and imaginations and
quite simply break away from it all. Jesus can use them only as
they are quite alone. One day in eternity when they stand before
God's throne and, after all, this is the moment for which Jesus
wants to prepare them they also will not be able to take all these
things with them. There again they will be completely alone.
And there are the people with their illnesses, their leprosy,
their blindness, their darkened minds and shattered souls. And
with all this they stand quite alone before Jesus. (How terribly
isolated and lonely is the mentally ill person ! ) All of us carry
our pack alone in ultimate loneliness, even though thousands of
others bear the same lot, even though thousands like me are
homeless, exiled, orphaned, and uprooted. For every single per-
son experiences and bears and suffers these things in his o e um way
and therefore in a totally different way and therefore alone.
So we are alone in our suffering. Every suffering makes a per-
son lonely. And consequently, each one steps out of the crowd
and makes his way alone to the Savior, and then too this Savior
belongs to him alone.
There are the publicans and sinners, the adulterers and thieves.
How lonely their guilt has made them! Sin has such a horrible
power to isolate us; you know this and I know it. And so they
too stand alone before the eyes of Jesus, and he is there for them,
completely available to each and every one, as if he were the
only lost soul in this whole world.
And finally there are the people with problems, the intel-
lectual and religious problems they drag about with them; Nico-
demus, for example, who comes secretly by night, nobody under-
182 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
stands him any more. For our inner tensions and questions isolate
us too. "My friends don't understand me; my parents don't
know the way things are inside of me" how many a boy, how
many a girl, says something like that. And to these solitary indi-
viduals too Jesus speaks his helpful word. For them personally
and alone, he has time and love and individual concern. And
perhaps on the very night the Master was talking with Nico-
demus, Judas was thinking to himself, "Ah, why doesn't he sleep
instead of squandering his strength on this one individual Why
doesn't he conserve his strength? Why doesn't he sleep and
gather strength to make a great speech tomorrow in the market
place in Jerusalem? Then we would soon get on with this Chris-
tianization of the world. Only that kind of strategic goal is
worth the candle for the Messiah." Such may have been Judas
Iscariot's thoughts that night, for he thought in large dimen-
sions; and for that very reason did not understand the kingdom
And now I have said enough about the narrowness of the
way, of the decisions and partings and the loneliness that comes
as we stand beneath the eyes of Jesus.
But in talking about all this, have we not made an amazing
discovery? As we have heard that this is a hard and narrow way
that leads through dying and dark places, have we not suddenly
seen in the narrowness the breadth, in the dying the living, and
in him, who seems to make living so hard, the great liberator?
All along, then, I have already been preaching the gospel be-
tween the lines, for we can never speak about Jesus even when
we have to speak of the narrowness of the way without con-
stantly speaking of the joy, the comfort, the promise, and the
liberauon that exists wherever he is.
For, I ask you, what was the experience of these people whom
we just mentioned, the people who stood utterly alone before
Jesus with their guilt and affliction, standing there, far away from
VENTURING THE HARDER ROAD 183
men and things, m that narrow gate through which a man can
pass only if he is utterly alone* Was this a moment that depressed
and cast them to the ground? Well, the fact is that every one
of them went forth from that hour as healed men, as new men
with a new future before them. That's answer enough. For we
have already seen that, just as I must bear my personal suffering,
my personal homelessness, the hopeless cancer in my body, the
unhappiness of my marriagejust as I must bear my personal
guilt, which nobody else knows about, and bear it all alone, with
nobody else to help me, so too I can experience the tremendous
liberation and absolution of my Savior only as I meet Jesus
Christ face to face in lonely, personal encounter.
When the paralytic was brought by his friends and set down
before Jesus, wedged in as he was in a crowd of people, at that
moment those two, the sick man and the divine physician, were
suddenly completely alone, even though the crowd and his closest
friends were standing close by. Suddenly Jesus was there for
this one man alone, as if there were not millions of others in
this world. But this one man, this one erring and tormented
human being was worth enough to him to command his com-
passion, to give himself wholly to him alone. And you too must
go through this lonely, personal encounter with Jesus. You too
must stand and talk with him in this narrow, constricted gate
where he meets you, standing there before you alone, where no
man and no thing can accompany you.
Perhaps you may ask me, how does one know that he is there,
standing before one ? How does one know that one is suddenly
confronted with the narrow gate when, after all, he is so invis-
ible and always there lies heavy upon one's soul that terrible,
frightening silence in which one feels that there is nothing there,
even though one really wants to "experience" his presence?
The answer to that is relatively simple. Anybody who wants
to have some inner sensations and revelations and feelings will be
disappointed. These will be "added" to him insofar as they are
184 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
good for him, quite incidentally and unsought. But first the
decisive thing has to happen in your life; first you must face
him utterly done and let him be there for you alone.
And in order to arrive at that point, you must forget this
whole crowded church. Perhaps it is the sight of this big con-
gregation that is carrying you along, the rapt attention and the
mighty, uplifting singing of the hymns. Perhaps you are hiding
yourself among all these hundreds of people and letting yourself
be carried along on a wave; and under the spell of this gathering
it may seem to you that there really may be something to this
Lord of the church, the Lord of this congregation, after all.
Well, if that's what you think, you are still far from the kingdom
of God; for then you are still on the broad way, which does not
lead to peace. For, as I have already said, this broad way that
leads to the abyss is by no means just the highway of the scoun-
drels, the sharpers, the swindlers, and the fourflushers. No, that
road is wherever people march in a mass and simply trot along
with the crowd because everybody else is doing it. And there-
fore even a church service can become a broad way, if you
merely want a thrill, if you want to let yourself be carried along
and uplifted in the tingling, exciting atmosphere of the many.
Now, if only one word, of all these words addressed to many
and heard simultaneously by many, should hit home to you and
cause you to say, "This means me and me alone; this touches an
abscess in my life, which the man up front can't possibly know
is there; this touches a secret sin in my life, which keeps me from
finding peace and which I cling to so tenaciously that hitherto
I have dodged the narrow gate"; or if you are compelled to say,
"This is balm poured into my wounds, my secret misery, my
secret despair; everybody else can leave here without anything
having happened to them, his words may have missed everybody
else; but me, he has struck straight in the heart. . . ."
Only then will Jesus Christ himself have spoken to you in
these words being uttered here. Then in, with, and under the
VENTURING THE HARDER ROAD 185
words of a poor, weak man a bolt of divine lightning will have
struck the ground before your feet and suddenly lighted up the
dark landscape of your life. And again when a little later we all
say the Lord's Prayer together, if you forget the impressive
sound of the chorus of many voices, speaking it with you all
around you; and if when you say, "Forgive us our trespasses,"
you mean, not the guilt and wickedness of the whole world, but
your own utterly personal sin and guilt and you know very
well what it is that you have to carry through that narrow gate
today then you can be sure that Jesus Christ is there for you,
for you alone, and that he is speaking to you that sovereign word
of pardon: "Your sins are forgiven." Do you understand not
the world's sins are forgiven, but yours, yours alone?
Only m this narrow gate, only in this solitary chamber, only
in one solitary niche of this great church can you become a
child. Only there can come into being what is called in the
language of the church a personal Christian.
You need not think or fear that I am preaching religious in-
dividualism. This has nothing to do with an "ism" or any other
silly notions that come out of the witches' cauldron of godless-
ness. For this niche which I just mentioned is in the midst of the
great cathedral in which the whole community of the Lord is
gathered. Everything you have to leave behind when you face
Jesus Christ alone and settle accounts with him, brothers and
sisters, your job, your friends, your marriage and your children,
is given back to you again, but now in a new and different way.
In other words, one does not find membership in the congre-
gation of Jesus Christ by indulging in a beautiful service of wor-
ship, by being impressed perhaps by something said by some brave
bishop, or by feeling secure in this environment. All this is
nothing but the broad way, nothing but mere trotting along with
a crowd. No, you will find entrance to the community of Jesus
Christ, a home in the church, security in that place against which
the gates of hell cannot prevail only if first you have stood utterly
186 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
alone before Jesus. Only then will these people in the youth
group, the Y.M.C.A., the men's groups and women's groups
really become brothers and sisters whom Jesus has bestowed
upon you, standing with you in a bond of union that endures
beyond death and beyond the Last Day. Previously they were
at most good comrades and nice companions.
The law of inertia of the Christian tradition which you have
allowed to carry you along, the religious instruction which has
stamped you for life, the habit of church-going, which perhaps
you will never get away from all this will help you not at all,
this can be overwhelmed in a trice by the gates of hell it needs
only a bit, perhaps of Bolshevism, to blow it to pieces. You can't
stake your life and death on that. But once you have stood in
the narrow path, where this lonely figure has refused to let you
pass him by and has taken everything away from you, then you
will receive all these things back again; then it can become a
blessing to you. Even your wife, your husband is suddenly a
completely different person to you when you go back to him
after having been in the narrow gate, even though you were
married as a Christian and were given the blessing of the church
Suddenly he is no longer merely the person you love and who
is good to you, or, the other way around, the person who has
become so terribly estranged from you during imprisonment, so
that you hardly know how to begin over again with him and
your marriage is endangered. All of a sudden for you he has
become the one for whom Jesus died, for whom Jesus lives, for
whom he gave up his life in heaven. Suddenly you see him
with different eyes. Now your life is filled with new gifts, new
tasks, new perspectives. A new person has, as it were, been
freshly born and therefore sees everything anew. He sees the
tensions of the world situation with different eyes, for he knows
that East and West, orient and Occident are in the hands of him
who is at the same time wholly present for you, for you, the
poor, the lonely, the guilty. He simply sees the dark, veiled
VENTURING THE HARDER ROAD 187
future, with all its paralyzing hopelessness differently. For in
its dark clouds there shimmers the dawn of that day when he
will come, when all will be fulfilled according to his plans and
nothing will be lost.
So we could go on at length, contemplating all that will be
given to us afresh and all that we will see with new, liberated,
Only he who is prepared to die receives life. Only he who
goes through the narrow gate and down the narrow way gains
the gift of a new breadth and amplitude, the breadth of the
church with its many brothers and sisters. (And what a thrilling
thing it is to experience the breadth of this fellowship when you
are lost somewhere and suddenly you find disciples, who are
bound to you as brothers and sisters!) And the breadth of the
world, too, will be bestowed upon you in a new way after you
pass through the narrow gate, with all that we love in this world,
but also all that is tormenting and depressing in it, for then we
have found the One from whose hand comes everything: love
and sorrow, people whom we need and who need us, gifts and
tasks, joy and pain. And we are assured, comforted, and con-
fident because all this comes through his hands, these hands that
reach out for us and bless us, as if we were all alone in this world,
and yet which hold the oceans and the very globe itself safe and
secure in their sovereign grasp.
And some one said to him, "Lord, will those who are saved be few*"
And he said to them, "Strive to enter by the narrow door, for many,
I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the
householder has risen up and shut the door, you will begin to stand
outside and to knock at the door, saying 'Lord, open to us.' He will
answer you, 1 do not know where you come from ' Then you will
begin to say, 'We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught
in our streets.' But he will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you
come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity'"'
Luke 13:23-21 (in connection 'with Matthew 7:! 3-1 4)
In the last sermon we saw that every one of us is summoned
before the face of God alone, and that no one can help us in the
ultimate decision of our life. Just as every one of us must die
his own death, so he must also stand alone before the throne of
God. Only alone can one go through the narrow gate. To be
sure, God then gives us brothers and sisters, we can then live
and breathe in the community of Jesus Christ, and it is an im-
measurable gift to be at home everywhere among Christian peo-
ple. But first one must go through this narrow gate completely
alone, no man can relieve us of this decision. How often we
would like to relieve of his decision a person who is wrestling
over Jesus and yet cannot make up his mind about him, as a
mother would like to take upon herself the pains of her sick
child and would be happy if she could do so.
TIME'S UP! 189
But there are things in life that simply cannot be delegated,
circumstances in which one cannot take the pkce of another,
things that each individual must go through by himself, things
in which one can only pray to God that he may graciously help
our brother or sister to get through. The new birth is a hard
and painful hour in which even those nearest to us must with-
But true as it is that here you and I are called to an utterly
personal decision, this picture of the narrow and the broad gate
nevertheless has another side.
It also causes us to look outside and constrains us to some
very serious and somber thoughts, which are especially trouble-
some for young Christians.
What a miserable minority sets out for church on Sunday
when the bells begin to ring, while the rest go on with other
affairs! Again, how few of those in this poor, scattered little
troop of church people can really say that they live in the peace
of God and that Jesus Christ is their one comfort in life and
death! May not thoughts like these croaking, raven, melancholy
thoughts have been going through the mind of that man who
approached the Lord and said, "Lord, will those who are saved
be few?" He may have seen what was happening on Jesus'
preaching journeys: some hung upon his words, devouring him
with their eyes; they had been touched. But then they departed
and probably by the next day they had completely forgotten it
all again. Only a handful remained, but even these dispersed on
the eve of Golgotha. And behind those who were listening, he
saw the others moving down the street: the farmers driving their
oxen, the maidens carrying water jugs to the well, the couples
flirting, the lads telling jokes, the women chattering, the men
talking politics; and all this going on in the very hours and days
and years in which the great world upheaval was taking place,
in which our destiny for time and eternity was decided.
It was just like today when the Salvation Army sings and
190 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
preaches on a street corner; the autos hoot, the trolley cars go
clanging down the street, people hurry past, and hardly any-
body notices that suddenly the kingdom of God is there in their
midst. The traffic officer lifts his arm and "rules the hour",
everybody's eyes are on him. From somewhere comes the chirp-
ing sound of a hymn tune, struggling with the waves of sound
rolling through the street. Who thinks of him who rules, not
only the hours, but all eternity? Who listens to the words in
which eternity is present in judgment and in grace*
And from the many who go their various ways behind the
little group of listeners, apparently unconcerned with the words
and deeds of Jesus, our eyes involuntarily turn to our own situa-
tion in which we live day by day in this century of the masses
Has the judgment been pronounced upon these many; has the
judgment been pronounced, for example, upon all these people
who go streaming in and out of the doors of trade and business^ 3
Who can hope to reach their ears and make himself heard at alP
Is it all up with them; are they hopelessly lost? And why then
have these few devout people been chosen? The thoughts of
this man, who is obviously deeply interested in Jesus, weigh
heavier and heavier on his mind as he approaches the Lord. But
did not Jesus himself aggravate the gravity of these thoughts
when he fastened our attention upon that narrow gate, winch
only a few will enter and what a fearful picture for us today
at which in the end a great queue of panicky, pushing, jostling
people will try to shoulder their way in, just as people crowded
into the shelters during the bombing raids when the horrible
sirens proclaimed death and destruction upon the housetops?
The sirens of the Last Day begin to scream and suddenly they all
realize how unprotected and lost, how terribly lost they are.
For in the shadow of the Last Day, at the end of all things every-
thing looks so different, so dreadfully different from what it
does on our daily walk down the street or from the perspective
of an office chair or a turning lathe.
TIME'S UP! 191
Did we not all have exactly the same experiences, the feeling
that the great stone buildings of our cities, our solidly built
homes ordinarily the symbols of human security had suddenly
become horribly uncertain places, places that might suddenly
fall in upon us* And so in the sudden realization that the world
might be lost we push and crowd at the gates of security, and,
behold, they are shut tight. "Lord, if that's the way it is, who
will get in 15 " that's the question this man is asking. "Don't you
see the masses of this twentieth century? They are still outside
and nobody is telling them that the sirens are sounding. Is that
the way the plot of world history is to turn out: ninety-nine
per cent lost and one per cent saved* Why then all this expendi-
ture of God's saving activity, in the end it's only a matter of
terrible, unfathomable predestination if a few have tickets to
get in and all the pushing and searching for entrance is nothing
but a farce for all the rest? Have you no pity for the masses,
Jesus of Nazareth; after all, didn't you die for all? If that's the
senseless way that the world's history is going to end, are you
really the one who was to come, or shall we look for another*"
We know what is going through that man's heart and mind,
because it is our own heart and mind.
But strangely enough, Jesus does not answer his anxious ques-
tion. He simply sets over against the question a command:
"Strive to enter by the narrow door." It is as if he were saying:
You keep worrying and lacerating your heart with a question
that doesn't concern you at all. How the world's history is going
to turn out, how the books are going to be balanced, how many
are going to heaven and how many to hell, this is not your con-
cern; this is hidden in the counsel of God. Brooding and think-
ing about this only diverts you from the real question, the task
that God has assigned to you. For you yourself are the theme.
You strive to enter in!
It is surprising to note the questions to which Jesus does not
give answers, no matter how seriously and sincerely they are
192 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
asked. There are questions by means of which people drown
out the real demand that Jesus makes upon them, by which they
evade certain decisions and try to shift the whole program of
Christ on the same innocuous track. So, for example, the silly
question that was asked in Matthew 22:23 ff.: If a woman marries
seven brothers successively, in each case becoming a widow, to
which of the seven will she belong in the resurrection? As if
there were not more sensible and pressing things to worry about
than such questions. Luther once replied to the profound ques-
tion of what God was doing and how he occupied himself be-
fore he created the universe: "He was cutting switches with
which to thrash inquisitive questioners."
This "wrong way of putting the question" appears most
clearly when the disciples wanted to know of Jesus when the
end of the world would come (Matt. 24:3). Jesus did not answer
their question in the sense of giving them the date they wanted,
but again answered with a command: Watch, for you know
neither the day nor the hour when the Son of man will come
(Matt. 25:13). Obviously, what he is saying is: this brooding
over the position of the hands on the clock of the world is some-
thing that does not concern you. God alone knows when the
midnight hour will come and the mighty clock strikes twelve.
And therefore speculation about this question only leads you
away from the real question and the real task which is assigned
to you, namely, the command to be watchful and to live every
hour in view of the coming Lord. Who knows why the five
foolish virgins ultimately fell asleep? Perhaps it was precisely
because they had talked themselves to sleep discussing when the
bridegroom would come. After a while it is easy to fall asleep
talking about such religious problems, indeed, such discussions
inevitably put one to sleep. And who knows why the foolish
virgins neglected to fill their lamps with oil? Perhaps again be-
cause they were discussing this problem and thus forgot the
essential thing. How many there are today who keep musing
TIME'S UP! 193
and brooding about the "decline of the West" instead of allowing
God to strike this wrong way of putting the question out of
their minds and letting him make of them new men from whom
streams of living water flow into this desert of decline, this
wilderness of our decaying civilization and thus become a staying
and renewing force m all this.
I would like to shout something into all this paralyzing dis-
cussion that goes on every day, all this spellbound preoccupa-
tion with the great unknown of the immediate future, the next
war, the question of what we shall eat, wherewithal we shall be
clothed, and where we shall live.
I would like to cry out in the midst of all this: "He has
showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord
require of you but to do justice and to love kindness, and to
walk humbly with your God?" (Mic. 6:8). Do you understand?
You are told what the Lord requires of you. You brood about
when fresh war, burning, and death will break in upon us. You
just wear yourself out with that kind of thing. For we ruin
ourselves with all these false questions and fall into a terrible
paralysis. Therefore listen: you have been shown what God
requires of you, and this means in very practical terms (I am
simply applying this word of the prophet to your situation):
put your life so in order that tomorrow the great catastrophe
may break m upon you. Practice the keeping of that word that
says that whether we live or die we are the Lord's. Use the time,
which may perhaps be short, to practice love wherever you can,
and be a joyful flowing fountain in the midst of the desert of
paralysis, hopelessness, and sullen disillusionment. And be humble
before your God, by accepting what he sends to you and sur-
rendering your own false and romantic plans for your life to his
mysterious fatherly will.
What a release it can be from our anxiety, from all this trem-
bling and bleating, all this croaking and nervousness if I am
simply given such marching orders as these: you have been told,
194 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
O man, what the Lord requires of you; which most certainly
does not mean to talk about the "decline of the West" or the
date of the Last Day and the great collapse of the world, but
rather to go ahead and do a very definite piece of work. You
have only to read your daily Bible text to know what your quota
for the day is. You need only look at that young war widow
who needs your help or that refugee who is having a hard time
of it and is yearning for a good word or a helping hand. The
first thing Jesus always has to do to us is to cure our habit of
asking the wrong questions and our wrong way of looking at
And so it is with the narrow gate. It's not our task at all to
ponder about who will get in, our task is to walk into it our-
selves. All questions that do not issue in action and have nothing
to do with the command of God lead us straight into a confused
underbrush of problems and drop us there. And so it is with
the question of predestination which is evoked in our text: Are
only a few predestined to salvation? Jesus simply ignored this
question because it brought up a false subject, a subject that is
reserved only to God. And therefore he replies "Agonizesthe"
which means literally: "Struggle in dead earnest to enter in."
And "in dead earnest" means to stake your life on it. Venture
above all the thing on which your life most depends, your
favorite sins, your strongest passions, the thing you least want to
give upand you know very well what they are in your life-
even if they be "goods, fame, child, and wife." God can only
be known as one is willing to stake one's life. And he who
consents to be recruited and mobilized for his kingdom cannot
take a furniture van with him; he must leave everything behind
and can only have them as if he had them not. All this Jesus
meant when he said: strive in dead earnest to enter in.
And then when he goes on to say, "Many will seek to enter
and will not be able," he uses another word for this "seeking"
which in the original means something like this: there are
TIME'S UP! 195
the people who are moved merely by wistful longing, by
mere homesickness, the so-called religious people who would
like to have what they call peace: "Sweet peace, come, ah come
to my heart." But no battles can be fought with mere longing
and a bit of homesickness for the Father's house; you can't break
the spell of the far country, you can't bear the Cross with that!
And perhaps when the sirens of the Last Day begin to scream
it will be these "yearners" who will stand before the narrow
gate of the world to come and plead: Did not yearning drive us
into the church? Did we not invite you to be our guest at our
And he will say: I do not know you.
So you see, in the presence of Jesus the only way we can
approach this dark question of predestination is to listen to this
call: struggle in dead earnest, beware of this pious yearning and
this religious prattle. The person who wants to peek into the
mysteries of God and then jabber about it is precisely not the
kind of person who is seeking with all his might to enter into
God's security, into the door of the Father's house. He is more
like a buzzing fly or a butterfly, beating against the lighted
windows of the house, not understanding the glass wall that
keeps it from the light to which its obscure instincts and
creaturely yearning drives it.
Therefore this saying, "Strive in dead earnest" is not only
a hard saying; it is also a liberating word. Now we know what
it all depends upon. Now we know what our goal is. Not that
we have to shut our eyes and turn off our thinking machine as
we walk God's road and see the many people with empty faces
and hopeless eyes. Not that we are forbidden ever to ask the
anxious question: "What will become of all these people?" Jesus
has no desire that we should be all tied up inside with repressed
questions which we are not allowed to ask; he does not wish us
to grow stiff-necked because we are constantly having to turn
away from the problems that clutch at our hearts. No. All
196 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
these questions remain. But they are mysteriously transformed.
In his presence they become tasks, commands, suddenly they
become creative and positive.
We have only to think of what Jesus himself did with these
questions. In the garden of Gethsemane was not he, too, shaken
by fear of the future and suddenly desolated by the shadow of
But in that hour did he allow himself to be devoured by
the question of how he was going to face it and whether there
might be some other way out? Not by any means. Rather
he wrestled to find the task that the will of his Father was set-
ting before him, and then at his command he rose up and walked
straight into that task. And the moment of obedience was then
also the moment of consolation, and there at his side was the
angel who went with him.
There are no angels inhabiting our brooding speculations.
But never yet has there been a man who rose up in obedience
and "strode into his destiny" whom God did not accompany
with his consolation. The roads of God down which we ride in
obedience, like Diirer's "Knight defying death and the devil,"
threatened by the specters of dread in our own breast and perils
upon perils by the roadside, are flanked on either side by invisible,
And then too, did not Jesus himself see these desperate, hope-
less masses on the broad road* Did not this question of what
would become of them gnaw at his heart too? Did he not speak
of the misery of this flock that had no shepherd and was there-
fore being caught in the brambles and falling victim to the
wolves? And is not this basically the same oppressive question
that is being asked here, whether only a few will be saved? But
if this question is hard and distressing for you and for me, what
must it have been for him, who was on his way to give his life
and his blood for all of these people (I John 2:2)? Were all
these to perish miserably in their sins, ignorant of this grievous
TIME'S UP! 197
sacrifice made for their sake, while in the Father's house the
gaily lighted halls were waiting and the utmost price had been
paid for their happy homecoming?
But Jesus' gaze did not dwell m sadness upon this glittering
procession of misery on the broad way. No, he himself went
out and took his stand on that road, crying out to the crowd to
stop and turn around. He laid his hand upon the sufferers, by
this token showing the others who saw it that they too were
secretly sick, that they too were not well and whole. He for-
gave sins and by that token showed us all that we are estranged
from God. And finally he allowed himself to be run down and
crushed by the masses, because the world and its broad ways did
not understand him, even though it belongs to him.
He was incapable of contemplating the misery of the multi-
tude without immediately instituting countermeasures and help-
ing them: he sent out his disciples like sheep among wolves.
This can only mean a tremendous sacrifice for an utterly hope-
less missionary task! For, once we begin to think about it,
wasn't it a monstrous thing to send sheep two by two into a
pack of wolves? But is there a single thought, a single statement
or calculation in the New Testament that indicates the hope-
lessness of this undertaking? Is there a single hint that shows
they were asking: Will the wolves be influenced in the slightest
by the sacrifice and service of these defenseless ones; will they
simply turn back to their howling and bestial games as if noth-
ing had happened? Will the world take any notice whatsoever
of the sacrifices of the servants of the Word and the blood of
the martyrs^ Will this change the world one single bh? Indeed,
has it changed at all? And if only a few will enter the narrow
gate anyhow, why all this effort and expenditure, why all the
blood and tears, why the Cross?
But, strangely enough, not a word is said of all this. On the
contrary, they went out and obeyed, and as they went and
obeyed they were comforted, and in this very obedience they
198 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
made the most wonderful discoveries. They discovered that
the powers of darkness retreated before their preaching of the
Word (Luke 10:17), they experienced the joy of serving, the
joy of finding one lost soul for whom the angels in heaven re-
joiced; and that was reward enough for all the toil.
How different everything looks, depending upon what atti-
tude you take toward Jesus' words. Whether, for example, you
try to assess critically what can possibly come of Jesus' saving
work; whether the whole thing is a hopeless affair; whether this
message still has enough vitality in it to turn this age of the
masses around, and therefore whether it would not be better for
you simply to sidestep this dangerous expedition into the realm
of the wolves. Or whether you take his word and go out and
do what he has commanded and begin right now to practice
love, to give the Word to your neighbors, and be an oasis in
this wilderness world!
But when you do that, how different everything becomes!
What encouragements, surprises, and miracles await him who
acts in obedience instead of standing back and anxiously apprais-
ing, who entrusts himself to him who promises to be our rod
and staff in the dark valleys and will be with us always, to the
end of the world.
So in the discipleship of Jesus everything is transformed.
Cares are transformed into prayers, and therefore into some-
thing that no longer drags us down but lifts us up to the peace
of God and thus makes us free and positive. Paralyzing thoughts
become an active obedience that gives content and meaning to
our life. And on the rough roads and narrow paths the angels
wait for us. In the dark valleys sounds the voice of the Good
Shepherd, and in the desert flow the springs of eternity which
are the consolation of God. Instead of "craven thought and
anxious vacillation" there streams the joy that is promised to all
who serve in the name of Jesus.
Why is it that there is such liberation from anxious thoughts
TIME'S UP ! 199
in this command "Strive to enter"' 5 Is Jesus sending us off to
an unknown goal, merely telling us what Goethe said, "Who e'er
aspiring, struggles on, for him there is salvation"? This would
be a very vague and uncertain thing, and the New Testament
makes it clear to us that it is not the struggle and the striving
itself that counts, but rather that one must respect the ground
and goal and motive of the struggle. "An athlete is not crowned
unless he competes according to the rules" (II Tim. 2:5). The
striving "in itself" can become a mere mercenary pursuit, and
the aspiring struggle may be a mere adventure motivated by
the romantic idea that God delights in these gladiators of life
and ultimately approves of these stormy rebels and activists,
regardless of what they strive and struggle for. No, the consola-
tion, the new and positive thing lies in Jesus because he says to
us: you do not strive just for the sake of striving, but because
that narrow gate is there, really open to you and offered to you.
Just as surely as I, Jesus of Nazareth, am among you, proclaim-
ing this message, so surely am I myself this gate and this way.
Do you understand, then, that what is here commanded in this
imperative, "Strive to enter," is at the same time offered to you,
given to you, and is fulfilled in him who is here speaking to you ?
You perhaps may be among those who hear Jesus' words like
a distant bell and are moved by the sound of it, but still do not
know where it is or even whether its ringing is meant for you.
How many there are who say, openly or indirectly, those mel-
ancholy words of Faust, "The words I hear full well; but, alas,
it's faith I lack." And what is that but to say: I'd like to live
in that world in which my mother once taught me to pray. But
those words of long ago lie like burnt-out cinders in my hand
and there is no life in them anymore. They simply have no
relevance for me. And so I am excluded from those fortunate
ones who find the mysterious gate and can feel that those bells
are ringing for them. I would like to have that peace that was
so real to my foxhole buddy, the man who shared my hunger in
200 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
the prisoner-of-war camp, the woman with whom I went through
the terrors of the bombings; these people radiate an atmosphere
of courage and security. How glad I'd be to live in that peace.
But it's not for me. And when in church the minister says,
"Peace be with you," I think I know what that could mean,
but I can't reach out for it, because peace doesn't reach out for
me. Perhaps I'm just one of those people who will never find
the gate, one of the many who have a different fate.
All right, then listen to the message of this text. The very
fact that Jesus is saying to you right here and now, "Strive to
enter by the narrow door" and you are hearing it now means
that it is open to you. And all that you are asked is whether
you are willing to fight until you die, whether you are really
in earnest, whether for you this is more than mere yearning or
Faustian infatuation with a bit of searching for the truth. The
door is open to you, because you are hearing Jesus' words. Or
do you think he is a mere juggler, trying to make a fool of you^
Do you think he is a cynic, playing a game of cat-and-mouse
with you, luring you on, only to slam the door in your face 3
You would be taking the Son of God for a devil, if that's what
you assume, if you do not have the desire to run to him and
cast his promises at his feet, saying: you promised, you said it,
now here I am; I'm yours!
Our text closes with the somber picture of the falling of night,
the night when no man can work, the hour when the door is
locked and the great midnight of the world is come. For Jesus
can say, not only what he said at the marriage in Cana, "My
hour has not yet come," but also, "My hour is past, the time
has run out." But because we think we have "forever," we don't
like to think about that.
Then the great silence will descend upon the world. The
preachers, if there are any left, will move about the chancels
like mute shadows; but the Word will sound forth no more,
TIME'S UP! 201
for the power and the Spirit will have vanished and the accept-
able time will be over. The hands of the preachers will point
toward the heavens, but where the heavens were there will be
only a storm cloud and "seated on the cloud one like a man."
And the world will say: the hour of Christendom is past and
new gods will begin to inhabit the throne of heaven. But the
truth will be just the opposite; for then the hour of the world
will be past and the time of its visitation will be over.
In the face of this dreadful possibility we ask once more: Has
this hour already elapsed? Has the passing shower of the gospel
long since passed over Germany and the blessed cloud already
disappeared beyond the horizon 5 Do we not hear those pain-
filled words of Jesus, spoken over our country and perhaps over
this whole world which is shaken by the winds and woes of
the last times: "Would that even today you knew the things that
make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes"? Have
not the bombing raids, the terrors of the collapse, the thunders
of battle, the miseries of the displaced passed over and left every-
thing just as it was before* So we ask, is the hour past already?
Are not the last sirens already screaming* Is not the midnight
hour already plunging in upon us, that last hour of which
Georges Bernanos, the French writer, spoke in his famous novel,
The Diary of a Country Priest: "But just you wait. Wait for
the first quarter-of-an-hour's silence. Then the Word will be
heard of men not the voice they rejected, which spoke so
quietly: 'I am the Way, the Resurrection and the Life' but the
voice from the depths: 1 am the door for ever locked, the road
which leads nowhere, the lie, the everlasting dark* "?
But still, contrary to all expectation, he did not say, "Would
that you had known" Still he is saying "Would that even today
you knew the things that make for peace!" There is still time;
the hour is still here and the Word is being preached, the mes-
sage of Jesus, "Strive to enter" is still being heard! Still he goes
202 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
through the land with blessing in his hands, still he is the open
door. But we enter now as God's hand is already on the latch
and the last trumpets are being raised. Twelve this is the goal
of time. O man, remember eternity.
So even this glimpse of falling night is not meant to mislead
us into melancholy. "What's the use?" anybody who says that
does not understand the mystery of the last aeon. No, the near-
ness of the midnight hour rouses us to make the final effort, to
accept the final orders. It sends us out once more into the streets
to cry out again: Lord, stay with us, for it is toward evening
and the day is now far spent!
We live in the time of the last appeal. This night the Lord
will be asking for your soul. Where are you ? Where do you
stand? Tonight, this night!
The Foundation of Life
"Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will
be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain
fell, and the Hoods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that
house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.
And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them
will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the
rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against
that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it."
Every one of us wants to be a wise man and every one of us
would like to build the house of his life properly.
So when Jesus speaks of these two wishes which are common
to all of us he is really addressing every man. Hitherto he has
been speaking chiefly to the disciples. But now as he begins
to speak about wisdom and a man's own house, even the people
in the back row suddenly prick up their ears. He is saying
that a man can handle his life, his business, his job wisely and
sensibly, or he can do all this foolishly, ineptly, and clumsily.
It is colossally stupid, for example, for a man to put thousands
of dollars into building the facade and interior decoration of his
house and forget the simplest prerequisite, that is, to find out
whether the ground on which it is built is sound. Otherwise,
even the finest mansion will come down around his ears. A
204 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
man is a fool if he allows his own stupidity to bury him under
his own house. A man is a fool who throws his money away
for things that cannot function and on the other hand economizes
where he ought to be liberal and especially careful, because this
is the main thing, namely, the foundations.
"What this man up front is saying," think these two, "really
sounds quite sensible. He actually has his feet on the ground
and isn't floating around in the clouds. And apparently he
knows something about architecture about the practical archi-
tecture of life. Obviously he means that this God he is always
talking about not only has something to do with being religious
and believing in the life to come but also with the question of
whether one deals 'wisely' with life, with getting on in this
life, or whether one acts like a fool and gets wrecked because
he neglects the most important thing."
Well, what does this man up front mean by this "house" he
is talking about? He obviously means the house of our life. All
of us are building upon this house, and others are helping us at
it. Our mother's love carried the first stones for the building
when she brought us into the world and strove to keep us strong
and healthy. The first sounds of our speech we learned from
her, and it was she who first taught us to fold our hands in
prayer. It was our mothers who built love into the walls of our
life from the beginning. Without love these walls would cer-
tainly never have been raised.
And then we had to go on building ourselves. We went to
school, we shouldered the first responsibilities, and we were told
that we must do this and do that or we would never amount to
anything. So we began ourselves to gather stones for the house
of our life, at first small, individual ones with weak childish
hands (a few plain maxims and the ABC's) and finally great
loads carried now on the stronger shoulders of grown men and
women. We perhaps had some joy and pride as we succeeded
here and there, learning that the boss was satisfied with what we
THE FOUNDATION OF LIFE 205
accomplished, doing a good job in our trade, filling our place
as a merchant, or sowing and harvesting love as the mother in a
home. How many people, parents, friends, comrades, con-
tributed to the building of this house of our life and making it
what it is now!
But there are pits and gaps in the masonry too. There were
reverses and hard times when not much progress was made.
There wese faulty constructions and wrong estimates. But any-
how, our life is a house perhaps a mansion with respectable
doors and a garden and an impressive atmosphere, perhaps a
small and miserable hovel. But however that may be, we live in
it and we try to keep our house weather-tight and be secure
And we succeed, for a time. But into every life there come
storms, when suddenly the question of the condition of the
foundations and the cellars becomes acute. Then all at once
one sees his house from an altogether different point of view.
In peaceful times one takes a simple delight in the comfort of
the living room, the fine view, and everything that has really
turned out well in one's life: the fact that we are making a
living, that we enjoy our work, and get along well with our
friends and neighbors. But then suddenly there is a war, the
sirens scream, the Christmas trees appear in the sky, and fire
and brimstone rain down. Then the question of the cellars and
foundations comes to the fore. Then all at once it is no longer
important whether the house of our life is spick and span and
comfortable and whether it is looked upon with approval all
this could be swept away in a second. Then everything depends
upon whether it is sound and secure in the depths and whether
one can find shelter there. Then perhaps that shabby monster
of a house in the neighborhood is far better because it has this
reliability in its depths and foundations. Then perhaps that man
who was thought to be rather plain and reserved and never
made much of himself, who was hardly noticed by his neighbors
206 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
and whose friendship nobody sought, perhaps this man with the
homely facade suddenly turns out to be a man who stands
strangely secure in the hour of disaster, a man who radiates an
encouraging and sustaining power upon those around him, so
that many find in him a pillar of strength even the man in the
neighborhood with the attractive home of his own, which has
long since been swept away by the storm of bombs, and now is
so helpless as he hangs suspended over the abyss of nothingness
We have all experienced something like that, for our genera-
tion is one that has come through great storms and is even now
moving toward horizons threatened with heavy, black clouds.
And for many of its our houses have collapsed and not only
houses of stone and wood, but rather the houses of our lives.
There, for example, is the refugee from the East. He had to
leave house and home and all his possessions. Do you realize
what that means, the old chest of drawers that belonged to great-
grandmother, the familiar creak in the steps, the palter of rain
in the big barrel, the neatly arranged linen closet, filled with
the work of diligent hands over decades and always fragrant
with the faint odor of lavender, and all the many little things,
utterable and unutterable, that go to make up the sweet scent
and atmosphere of home> And now it's utterly gone. And per-
haps for the exile the collapse of all these things has meant the
collapse of the house of his own life. What is left, apart from
all these things, to make life worth living? Is there any ground
that has not been shaken and shattered? Is there a place where
one can go on existing meaningfully, a place where one can "be"
something and count for something quite independent of the
house and home and wife and child, which are destroyed, lost,
or dead a place where one can be safe and happy despite all this?
You see, here again is the question of the foundations of the
house of life that Jesus points to in this text. Never before did
the refugee think when he rose from his own bed and looked
up to the sky and when at night he turned out the light in the
THE FOUNDATION OF LIFE 207
familiar room that one day he would ask, would be compelled
to ask that question, and that then everything would depend on
some things in life which were altogether different from those
with which he was concerned hour by hour and day by day.
Take General Harras in Zuckmayer's play The Devtfs General
Now there was a "real guy," full of radiant vitality; everybody
liked him. And what a wonderful, jolly life it is to be "at home"
in such an atmosphere of sympathy and enthusiasm! What a
feeling of security to be "at home" in the hearts of many people
who loved you, indeed, of people who idolize you and would
go through fire for you f This is really to have a "house in the
sun." And above all, General Harras was consumed with his
passion for flying. Anybody who has ever been above the clouds
knows what a glorious, beautiful, thrilling thing flying can be.
And we understand then why General Harras set his heart on
becoming a flier and a general in the air force, no matter who
he flew for and who he fought for even if it was for the devil.
His house was the air, the wild blue yonder, his marvelous,
And all of a sudden the storms come into his life too. He sees
what is happening to the Jews. He sees the injustice and the
brutality and all the dark shadows, which I need not conjure
up here, because we have all lived in them. And General Harras
was hopelessly delivered over to them, because he had sold his
soul to the master of these shadows, because it was from him
that he had received his plane, his uniforms, the spacious skies,
and the good companions in whose hearts he lived. Suddenly he
was faced with the hardest question of all: Is your accomplish-
ment, is this satisfaction you find in your profession, is the good
companionship you have with your fellow workers, is all this
really a "house" in which you can live, a house that can survive
the hurricanes of life? Have you not forgotten, General Harras,
the question of what kind of ground you built upon? Have you
208 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
forgotten that you with all your brilliant life may not have
settled down in a muddy swamp ? Perhaps you have really over-
looked the question of 'whom it is you are working for, in whose
name you are willing to live and die. Did the question never
occur to you in the play a young officer who is fanatically
devoted to him timidly suggests this to him in the last, darkest
hours whether you have reckoned your life without your host,
whether you have left out the main factor, God, so that you
end up serving the devil? "Do you believe in God, GeneraP"
Then the shadows swallowed him up. The plane, which once
bore him up so gloriously, threw him out, the air, into whose
heady expanses he hurled himself so joyously, let him fall, and
not only the machine, which lay on the ground a smoking wreck,
but he himself, his life, his brilliant career, the fine uniform and
the decorations were a wreck. It had all been an empty, insub-
Well, it is the same catastrophe that has befallen countless
numbers of us, people who tried to accomplish the best, who
wanted to do decent work in the military, in social affairs, 01
as teachers, perhaps even as politicians, and even had some suc-
cess and satisfaction, people who thought they had erected a
solid house in which they could live their lives and yet made
only one mistake. And that mistake was their failure to ask in
'whose name they were doing this, 'whose wagon they were pull-
ing. Or perhaps it was a mother who raised her children with
love and many sacrifices, who went hungry in order to feed
them, wore shabby clothes in order that they might be neatly
dressed, and yet depriving them of the ultimate foundations
of life or even giving them false goals with one hand giving
them the goods of this world (food and drink, clothing, and
shoes) and with the other depriving them of the world to come.
The point is that in the last analysis the important thing in
life is not whether a man, or a woman, has a bright mind, but
THE FOUNDATION OF LIFE 209
rather which light it is that makes this brightness, whether it is
the hght of eternity or the sulphurous light of Satan, in other
words, whether he turns out to be the devil's general. It is not
a matter of whether he is a strong fellow with sufficient energy
and ambition, or whether he has both feet on the ground, but
rather of 'what ground he is standing on. If the ground gives
way, even the strongest legs are of no use to him; for then the
stronger he is the more quickly will he entangle himself in the
brambles and the swamp.
And that gives us a bead on the point in our life to which Jesus
is pointing, namely, that point at which the -foundation of our
life is at stake.
He tells us that this foundation is the Word of God which a
man hears and does.
What does this mean?
That the Word of God is a foundation that lies beneath the
zone where the storms rage and provides us with a place of
shelter is shown by the fact that there is not a single stage in
our life where we will be obliged to abandon it because it is not
relevant. We can have the greatest respect for Goethe's Faust
and Shakespeare's plays, and they may have set off some grand
and stimulating storms in our life. But would you read these
things to cancer patients in a hospital ward? Would these works
be suitable in the spiritual climate of a crowd of refugees or the
mass burials after the great bombing raids? Obviously, these
are words for the peaks and pinnacles of the house of life; but
they cannot be the foundations that will sustain and preserve us
in the storms of meaninglessness, mass deaths, hunger, and the
frantic fear of life and the future.
But the Word of the Lord and Jesus Christ himself is this
Word is relevant at every station of life. It is there at the
cradle and the grave. It is there when wedding bells ring, and
it is there in the night of suffering. It sounded forth its "Let
210 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
there be" on the morning of creation, and it will be the Word
that will not pass away when heaven and earth pass away and
are toppled into the great grave of the universe.
It is there, always there. It is there with its blessing even
before we understand it, when it is spoken at the cradle, in bap-
tism, and in our mother's prayers. And when we grow to con-
sciousness we find that already it is there. And when we pre-
pare for our last hour, when we no longer feel the touch of the
beloved hand that cannot let us go, when our dreams dissolve
and those we love are left behind on the hither shore, when the
songs of birds are silenced and the sun goes dark, then, even
then, this Word does not desert us; now it imbues with substance
the prayer of bygone days: "When I depart, depart thou not
from me." No, it does not depart; it comes to meet us on the
other shore. Any pastor who deals with the dying learns again
and again that these words penetrate to levels and depths that
no human words can reach. They are the last companions as we
cross the unknown border, and they are the first to greet us on
the other side, where they are still true and valid.
And then too, this Word is present in the happy hours of our
life. It blesses the meager and the rich meal, and it weeps with
those who weep; it gives life in death, riches in poverty 1 ", hope
in hopelessness. And how could it be otherwise, since all our
ways, that lead us through a thousand stations of suffering and
joy, hope and despondency, must finally end at the throne of
God, that throne from which this Word came forth and at
which it now finds its final triumph and fulfillment? How could
it be otherwise, when at every one of these stations there awaits
us that One, who wept with the widow of Nam and allowed her
grief to tremble through his own heart, who shared the merri-
ment of the celebrators at the wedding at Cana, and dies the
death of all who die ?
And all this gives us a picture of why it is that the Word of
God is the foundation of life. It is, simply because it is abiding,
THE FOUNDATION OF LIFE 211
because it is faithful and true, because there is not a moment in
life when it is not relevant and valid. Not a single moment;
neither the hour of guilt, when it judges me and grants me for-
giveness, nor the hour m which meaninglessness of fierce disasters
beats down upon me, for then it speaks of those higher thoughts
that are planning our life and comforts our faith with the promise
of all that we shall one day be permitted to see.
Heaven and earth will pass away and so, too, will everything
else with which heaven and earth has comforted and sustained
us, everything else with which they have tormented, confused,
and tempted us. So even Faust's shining tracks will disappear in
this aeon,* and Shakespeare's Richard III and all the blood-
stained murderers and tormentors of history will be forgotten,
and fair Helen will be lost to memory. The loveliest evening
O'er all the hilltops
Is quiet now,
In all the treetops
Hardly a breath. . .
will die away, because the treetops and hilltops, whose eve-
ning stillness they extol, lie on this side of the great divide that
then will wall this burnt-out world. Yes, heaven and earth will
pass away but his words will not pass away. And therefore
those will not pass away who have lived and died by this Word
and desired to be on the side of him who spoke this Word and
was himself this Word.
Through sin and death he strides,
Through this world's grief he rides,
He strides through hell's dark tide;
Where'er he goes,
I too abide.
He keeps me by his side.
[The allusion is to Faust's boast, "The traces of my earthly being / Can
perish not m aeons' 7 ; Goethe, Faust, Part II, Act V. TRANS.]
212 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
That's why the Word of God is the rock foundation that
defies the storms. And therefore it is not shifting sand that
washes away. But then Jesus adds another important clause.
It is not the Word of God as such that becomes this rock foun-
dation for us, but only the Word of God that we do, the Word
that we take seriously in our life. And therefore it is not the
words we rattle off daily as we mechanically say grace at table,
nor is it a hurried recitation of the Lord's Prayer or our daily
Bible reading. All this may well be thrown with all the rest upon
the rubbish heap of this transient world; it may rise up to accuse
us as the Word of God we have murdered and desecrated. No;
the only Word that abides to eternity is the Word that is done.
What does it mean to "do" the Word of God?
It means quite simply to live with this Word. It means first
of all to take seriously the reality of the cares in my life, the
very real concern as to how I can get through a financial crisis,
how I can make out with my small pension, where I can take
refuge if the worst comes to the worst. I say that to live with
this Word means to take seriously the reality of all these cares,
but then to let the Word of God be an even greater reality. It
means to take seriously the Word that says that tomorrow, which
I worry about so much, is safe in the hands of God, that nothing
can happen to me except what he has foreseen and scrutinized,
and that "in everything God works for good," for my good, if
I let him take charge of my life and do not let my love grow cold.
To "live" with this Word means quite simply to dare to be
obedient, even where humanly speaking it seems foolish to be
obedient; to tell the truth when it is dangerous or "stupid" to
tell the truth, but where God really demands that it be spoken
and then with all your heart trust that God will not let you
down, but will make his promises come true.
To "live" with this Word means accepting whatever falls
to my lot-the friend who is having a hard time of it, the letter
of condolence that I must write, the business transaction I have
THE FOUNDATION OF LIFE 213
to carry out, the wonderful clear, cold autumn air I breathe on
a week end, the conference in the Kremlin I read about in the
newspapers, the fever of my sick child, the illness of my neigh-
bor, the toil of my job, the rest and peace of a day off and take
all this to God in prayer and supplication and thanksgiving.
Then I am "doing" the Word, then I am "building" upon it.
It's true all right that the Word of God is a rock foundation
on which I can build my life. But then it's also true that now I
must anchor, fasten, and moor this Word of God in every situa-
tion of my life, in everything, absolutely everything, that is im-
portant to me. Do you think this Word can become my com-
panion and friend, my rod and staff, if I hear it on Sundays or
read it in the morning and then go on my way as if my neigh-
bor's illness had only to do with medical science, as if the con-
ference in the Kremlin were only a political matter, as if all of
this were not completely and exclusively grounded in and gov-
erned by him who can turn the hearts of men wherever he wills
as he does the rivers of water, who can command the storms,
restore the sick, wake the dead, and transform burdens and cares
into pure blessings?
The only Word that is rock foundation is the Word that you
really stand upon.
I know, it sounds paradoxical, but it is true. The Word of
God seems to be sand. Isn't it a terribly risky thing to stake
one's life on a thing that is so "unverifiable," concerning itself
with myths and prehistory instead of relying upon what is near-
est at hand, upon fists and elbows, instinct, and common sense?
Well, for him who thinks in this way the Word is nothing more
than sand. For him who takes it merely as an "extra" in his life
(a little religion, a little worship, a little note of sad eternity now
and then makes a man feel better!), for him it drifts away like
sand, and the first good storm will blow away what is left of
his sand-Christianity. How many sand-Christians, nominal Chris-
tians were blasted by the storm of the war, stripped, like a tree
214 LIFE CAN BEGIN AGAIN
of its leaves, of the little bits of faith they still carried, only to
go on vegetating as barren nihilists reduced to mortal poverty!
But for him who dares to stand upon it, who simply takes the
risk of bving with Jesus Christ, this seeming sand suddenly
stiffens into rock on which he can stand in utter confidence,
laughing at the storms and winds, because they are the breath
of the voice of God, because this very voice of God, that makes
the earth to tremble and the mountains to smoke, has called him
by name, because it is God's rock that keeps him standing and
God's hand that holds him safe.
He who is safe in eternity need no longer fear what time
brings. He who has the peace that passes all understanding no
longer needs to fear the specters of terrible future possibilities
conjured up by his mind. He who knows that he is loved no
longer kills himself in hating other men. He who serves the
Prince of Life is no longer the slave of death. He who hears
above him the song of angels, rejoicing because he has found
his way home to the Father's joy, is no longer afraid of the war
cries of the nations. He who knows him who overcame the
world has escaped the specters He who trusts the hand that
rules the "ends of the earth" knows that even his poor, guilty
life is being safely led through all the woes of dying, the grave,
and the darkness of death to the Last Day and the Father's throne,
where every tear will be dried and there shall be no mourning,
no crying, and no more death, but only the song of the re-
deemed: Enter into the joy of your Lord'
When we live m the name of his last homecoming, prepared
for us by Jesus Christ, and when in the name of this last home-
coming we look upon every pain and joy that may come to us
as a visitation and a preparation for that day, then we know that
every storm can only drive us toward that haven and that even
the darkest roads through the valley of the shadow can lead
only to the gates of the Father's house. And that means that \ve
can withstand any storm, simply because we are upheld by him
1HE FOUNDATION OF LIFE 215
\\ ho abides for ever, the Alpha and the Omega, and from whose
hand nothing can snatch us.
Let this be the praise with which we close these meditations
on the Sermon on the Mount: He, Jesus Christ, is the rock on
which I stand, the hand that will never let me go, the eternity
that abides, the peace that holds within its grasp all the strife of
this world as a father holds the hands of his feverish child.
And 'when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished
at his teaching for he taught them as one *who had authority, and
not as their scribes.